What better way to reach young people in a tech-heavy world than through their cellphones? The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has partnered with a line of government ministries in Mozambique to launch a youth-led SMS service that offers counselling on sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention for adolescents.
â€œI would wake up wet and I didnâ€
These young people have become the driving force behind the Unicefâ€
According to UNICEF, ownership of cellphones by young people has never been so high, and will continue to increase independently to income and education levels. Cellphones have the potential to foster open dialogue on issues of sexuality, reproductive health and HIV prevention. Adolescents and young people want more information as they explore their sexuality, they want individualised channels that would respect their privacy, and they want to be at the centre of the response to their challenges.
In Mozambique, Unicef partnered with government and youth association, Coalizao to adapt the SMS-based U-Report and roll out a pilot programme in four provinces.
SMS Biz was designed to help adolescents and young people to express the problems they face in the community and assist in the consolidation of responses to these problems. The platformâ€
â€œWe currently have 36,428 young people registered users on the system since its launch in October 2015. Our plan is to reach 50,000 adolescents and young people by the end of 2016 in the four provinces that the programme is currently running,â€ said SMS Biz manager Francelino Murela.
He added that the confidentiality provided to young people using the SMS service is key in reaching young people because privacy is important to them â€œMost of the information given is available at local clinics but young people are scared to go to clinics because they donâ€
Additionally, the SMS service helps Unicef and the government gain knowledge about what issues need to be addressed. Several adolescents and young people engaged in peer discussions have expressed gratitude for having been reached by the initiative, particularly those in the rural areas who are further away from health services.
Being a 20-year-old virgin is challenging for Mutambe, who has opted to spend much of his time in church and abide by its teachings. He is teased and pressured frequently by his peers to engage in sexual activities and has no one to give him the detailed information about sex and girls as he is too shy to approach his uncle.
Trained counsellor Alexandre Chiloveque at the SMS Biz centre shares Mutambeâ€
â€œI would talk to my friends about sex and reproductive health because of the communication gap between my parents and I. My friends are constantly bragging about having sex with multiple girls and make fun of me for being a virgin. Iâ€
According to theÂ INSIDA 2009 survey, HIV prevalence among young people aged between 15 and 24 in Mozambique was 7.9% and HIV prevalence among young women was almost 3 times higher than that of young men of similar age.The survey similarly found that there are also disparities by residence – thereâ€