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Equipping Young People for Adult Life:
The Example of Action Health Incorporated's Adolescent Health Program

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What's it all about?

Action Health Incorporated's Adolescent Health Program was created to help young people learn and use information, skills and services to help them as they mature. It is especially geared to help them learn about things related to sexual health choices. The program also works to publicize the poor health of Nigeria's adolescents, and is trying to get parents and government officials to understand the need for sex education.

What's the problem?

Sexual relationships can be very dangerous because of diseases that are passed from one person to another during these relationships, called STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). If a person has sexual relationships without practicing safe sex, it increases the chances that a person will get an STD. This is a new problem for adolescents in Nigeria.

In Nigeria, many adolescents, in the past, have followed more traditional ways. As the country grows, however, new opportunities have left children without a traditional way of making sexual health choices. Many people get married at older ages because they can go to school until they are older (for example, they can go to college), meaning that many adolescents are having sexual relationships before they are married. Sometimes this may lead to adolescents having multiple sexual partners, which also places young people in Nigeria in danger.

Parents and schools often do not teach adolescents about sex education. If adolescents do not learn about these issues from their parents and/or schools, they may only learn about these things through their friends who may not know all of the right information.

This has caused many problems. More teens are in sexual relationships at younger ages (for example, 16-year olds). Many times, they do not protect themselves and have these relationships with more than one person. More than one-half of all girls become pregnant before they are 20. The number of adolescents getting STDs and HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is also very high. The incidence of STDs and HIV infection is also highest among young people, with 15 - 29 year-olds accounting for about 62% of the cumulative AIDS cases in Nigeria.

Also, many of the teenagers do not get to see a doctor or go to the hospital if they are pregnant or have an STD. A study showed that 24% of the sexually active respondents had at least one abortion and only 48% had the procedure performed by a medical practitioner. Teenage girls account for 80% of unsafe abortion complications treated in Nigerian hospitals. Many of these complications are life-threatening and often result in permanent infertility.

So what's the solution and how'd it get started?

Simply telling teens to say "NO" to sex is not enough. They need information, skills and services so that they can make the right decisions about sex. Action Health Incorporated (AHI) is trying to provide this information to adolescents. AHI believes that young people need to know what is happening to them. They also believe that teens should believe in themselves in order to have control over their own lives and choices.
AHI was created by a couple, Nike and Uwem Esiet. Both of these people saw the needs of the adolescents, and wanted to help. They started the group, with 8 people, to provide information about sexual health choices to adolescents in Nigeria.

So what's been done?

AHI uses many different ways to get information to young people:

  • sex education at schools and in youth centers;

  • youth mentoring (teenagers teaching and talking to other teenagers);

  • clinical health services (a medical office where teenagers can get medicine and can be treated for illnesses);

  • assistance to other organizations that help youth; and

  • education programs for the public and the government.

Young people are involved in every part of the program.

Sexuality Education

Sexuality is a word that describes who we are, how we develop, how we feel about our body image and gender roles, and our sexual relationships. The goal of sexuality education is to enable adolescents to better understand sexuality in order to help them take care of their sexual health.

AHI teaches young people about sexuality in a peer education program (youth teaching other youth) in high schools and at their youth center.

At the schools, trained peer educators (students) run a Health and Life Planning Club. Each week, club members meet and learn about these issues through educational activities. They play games, act out dramas, and have discussions. They talk about how to not have sex, how to be safe if they are going to have sex, how to deal with peer pressure, and how to not get HIV/AIDS.

At the youth center, they offer many of the same activities, but they also have educational classes run by adolescents. These activities are designed so that everyone can participate. For example, teenagers might anonymously write questions on a piece of paper. Another teenager would read the question, and then everyone would talk about it.

Youth Clinic

AHI also runs a reproductive health services clinic (a medical office where people can get help and medicine concerning sexual health) at the youth center. This clinic is only for young people, and is designed to make them feel comfortable dealing with and talking about these issues.

Young people are also involved in this program. While waiting to see the doctor or nurse, clients talk with a youth educator who gives them basic information about their bodies and STDs. The youth educator also helps the doctors and nurses talk to the teenagers.

The clinic helps about 1000 adolescents every year.

Videos and Books

AHI also makes books and videos about sexuality. This is being done to teach adolescents about their bodies and sexuality in a way that is different than is normally portrayed on television and on the radio. AHI has a free newsletter, "Growing Up", that is written for young people by young people with stories, poems, puzzles and pictures.

The young people at AHI are also helping to make videos about growing up. The youth making the videos have been trained to write scripts, record video, and perform other video production activities. The youth also teach other youth how to produce videos. One of their hit productions, named "Be Wise and Other Songs", is a music video where young people sing about STDs, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse. The artists wrote the songs and created the video, which has been broadcast on TV.


The Youth Skills Development Program is a one- year internship. In this internship, adolescents learn things that will help them deal with the challenges of life. The program is for teenagers that are finished with high school. They learn life skills, such as computer and office skills, and are also encouraged to participate in creative activities like acting, singing, dancing and writing.

Since 1993, over 30 people have been in this program.

Communities and Partnerships

AHI tries to inform the public about these issues. Many people wrongly believe that adolescents should not learn about sex because it will actually make them want to have sex. However, if young people do not learn about these issues, they could participate in sexual relationships anyway, placing them at risk for STDs and HIV/AIDS. AHI uses plays and music, written and produced by young people, to teach parents and others that adolescents should be able to learn about sexual health. At the end of the productions, the adults ask questions and the youth provide answers. Young people, along with AHI staff, also talk to government officials about sexual health.

One big event is the Teenage Festival of Life. It was created in 1993, and is a way in which young people can use their creativity to describe growing up. The festival includes adolescents from many towns in Nigeria, and sponsors writing competitions and performances of songs, plays and poems.

How's all this going?

The program has been very successful, and is one of the best in Nigeria. It has been given awards, and many more young people now know more about health and sexuality. AHI has provided information, skills and services to many adolescents in Nigeria, and plans to continue to inform the public about these issues by providing even more education.

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