Burkina Faso: Youth flock to youth centre for information on sexual health

| December 21, 2020

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At the Dano Youth Centre in Burkina Faso, David Poda flips through books about HIV and AIDS while waiting to speak to the volunteer facilitator. The centre is a welcoming place for youth like David to learn about sexual and reproductive health. Young people lead discussion sessions and conduct outreach to get youth talking about teen pregnancy and other issues. And while the Dano Youth Centre had to briefly close its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has re-opened with smaller group sessions, physical distancing, and mandatory masks. For Martine Traoré, a peer educator, it was important that the centre re-open so that youth have a comfortable place to access contraception and good information.

David Poda is 13 and in year four of secondary school. He flips through books at the Dano Youth Centre in Ioba province, in southwestern Burkina Faso. With the help of facilitator Émile Somé, a volunteer who runs activities at the centre, David is hoping to find answers to his many questions about sexual and reproductive health.

recalls one of the first books he borrowed from the centre. His father was angry when he saw that the book was full of pictures of male and female genitals. But with a few explanations, David was able to calm his father and reassure his parents.

The Dano Youth Centre is part of the district health system, and promotes sexual and reproductive health services to adolescents. These kinds of centres exist in nearly every large city in Burkina Faso and are often managed by a few partners. The centre in Dano is managed by a regional youth health and development network in collaboration with the district health system. A health worker is available for cases that require medical intervention, including painful periods, early pregnancy, gynecological consultations, and others.

Many of the centre’s activities are managed by facilitator Émile Somé, including training, advice, information, and education.

For David, the ambiance at the centre is friendly. The only adult is the doctor assigned to the centre. The centre encourages youth to trust each other and the volunteers, though everyone wears a mask and respects physical distancing due to COVID-19.

DThe COVID-19 crisis has slowed activities at the centre. Fewer youth visit, though Mr. Somé’s workload has increased. To respect physical distancing, he must sometimes share his message multiple times with smaller groups. But he is not discouraged. The fact that youth still come is a sign to him that they need this information on sexual and reproductive health.

David has known about the youth centre for a long time, but didn’t visit until recently because he had a few assumptions about people who visit the centre. He explains: “Those who frequent these kinds of places are young people with light morals. As soon as a girl said she was in the centre, I hated her because she is a girl who loves boys.”

But David changed his mind after one of the centre’s staff held an information session at his school. Now, David is an avid visitor.

Martine Traoré is another enthusiastic visitor. She is a student at another school in Dano and a peer educator for the NGO that runs the youth centre. Her mission is to inform youth about the risks of teen pregnancy in schools. She explains: “I made it my hobbyhorse because a friend of mine was a victim. She tried a clandestine abortion, and she survived thanks to intensive care. But she will have some consequences for life.”

According to statistics from the Regional Directorates of teaching in the South-West, there were 400 cases of teen pregnancy amongst secondary students and 73 amongst primary students in 2017.

Miss Traoré appreciates the support that the youth centre provides. But the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted this work, and the centre had to close its doors for a while. She says this put young women at greater risk of unwanted pregnancies. She recalls: “During the peak of the coronavirus, officials asked us to close the centre so as not to expose ourselves further. But I knew personally that this was the time when girls are most vulnerable because they do not have access to certain information or contraceptive methods.”

While information and contraceptive methods are available at other health centres, youth often receive a negative reception there.

s soon as measures to fight the coronavirus were eased, Miss Traoré and Mr. Somé re-opened the centre.

The Dano Youth Centre is growing in popularity, and is working with many associations to run sensitization campaigns in villages and secondary schools in Dano and the surrounding areas. These presentations often lead to questions from young people who want to know more about sexual and reproductive health, which leads them to the centre to find answers.

This is why Mr. Somé hopes for a bit more privacy and space to grow his own centre as a place of sharing and education in responsible sexuality. But for this, more partners are needed.

This article was produced with the support of the Government of Canada through the project “Promoting health, sexual and reproductive rights, and nutrition among adolescents in Burkina Faso (ADOSANTE).” The ADOSANTE project is led by a consortium including Helen Keller International, Marie Stopes-Burkina Faso (MS/BF), Farm Radio International, the Centre d’information de Conseils et de Documentation sur le Sida et la Tuberculeuse (CICDoc), and the Réseau Afrique Jeunesse Santé et Développement (RAJS).