The Girls Iron Folate Supplementation initiative (GIFTS)

Improving the health of girls and women through GIFTS

Henry Derben
Basic Design teacher, Elizabeth Gbeku’s personal experience with menstrual health pushed her to correct wrong perceptions of GIFTS
02 December 2019

In October 2017, when the Girls Iron-Folate Tablet Supplementation (GIFTS) programme was introduced into Krachie East to reduce the high prevalence of anaemia in women of childbearing age, majority of people in the communities thought it was a contraceptive to reduce the child birth rate in the municipality.

Elizabeth Elipklim Gbeku, a 27-year-old Basic Design and Technology teacher at Kpare Kpare Victory Presby School, is one of the people who believed that misconception shortly after the programme commenced.

“I wondered why only people in the rural areas were taking the Iron & Folic Acid (IFA) tablets and not those living in the cities as well. That line of thinking consumed me and I quit taking the tablet until my painful menstrual experience,” Elizabeth recounts.

A group of girls wait to receive their weekly dose of Iron Folate tablets

In January 2019, Elizabeth started experiencing intense pain when her menstrual flow began, and more alarmingly, the flow was heavy. That fateful night, the excruciating pain compelled her to lie in the kitchen, screaming for help. Later, she was diagnosed with anaemia due to the heavy blood flow and missed school for several days.

“Right after I got well, I resumed the intake of the IFA tablets and I haven’t experienced any menstrual problems till now. My personal experience has helped me to understand the relevance of GIFTS and I constantly educate young girls to take it weekly as prescribed.”

Eradicating anaemia

The Ghana Health Service and Ghana Education Service with funding and technical support from UNICEF and KOICA are implementing GIFTS to reduce the high rate of anaemia in adolescents and women of childbearing age, improve female health and contribute to reduction in maternal mortality.

In Ghana, 42% of women of childbearing age in drought-prone areas have high prevalence of anaemia with the highest rate among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years.

Solomon Konja, Municipal Nutrition Officer of the Ghana Health Service in Krachie East, said GIFTS has reduced the general rate of anaemia cases being recorded. “Women are in a better health state to give birth to children who are well nourished because of the efforts of GIFTS.”

Combating misconceptions

Solomon said constant education on the relevance of GIFTS is being done to combat the wrong perceptions of it being a contraceptive initiative.

“Combating misconceptions is a daily duty for us. We educate the boys and men to become advocates of GIFTS in order for us to create a supportive and enabling environment for the initiative to thrive,” Solomon said.

Showing the way

It’s Wednesday noon at Kpare Kpare Victory Presby School. About 25 female students in the junior high division queue under a thatched shed after lunch, with sachet water in hand. Elizabeth mentions their name by the order in the class register as they take turns to take the IFA pill.

“The IFA tablet has helped me in the last two years. The abdominal pains and irregular menstrual flow I was experiencing have reduced,” said Juliet Serwah, a 13-year-old JHS Two pupil in the queue. “The days of missing several days of class during my periods are no more.”

As part of GIFTS, school authorities are to directly observe that girls take the IFA tablet every week after lunch. For Elizabeth, her obligation of ensuring each adolescent student takes the pill under her watch is one that brings her fulfillment.

“At least I know that every girl under my watch will not go through a similar experience as mine. Hence, they are less likely to be anaemic, which impacts negatively on the health, vitality, educational performance, productivity and future childbearing life of the girl child,” Elizabeth said.