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How healthcare builds strong girls

Early years

Babies like Isanding can grow up and develop to their full potential

The first years are the most important years of one’s life. It is a critical time for brain development and establishing strong foundations that can last a lifetime.

Did you know? In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. These are the connections that build brain architecture – the foundation upon which all later learning, behaviour, and health depend. [source]

The brain needs nutrition and health inputs along with care, responsiveness and stimulation in order to grow and develop to its full potential.

Isanding lives with her mum Estelle in Cameroon, where conflict has disrupted farming, leading to food shortage. At 20-month-old, she is recovering from malnutrition. “My baby girl used to be very sick and pale, with a weight of just under 9kg”, says Estelle.

Fortunately, Isanding benefitted from a feeding programme run by Plan International and the World Food Programme. “Thanks to the support and follow-up care that I have received from the feeding programme, today she is very healthy, with a weight of 11kg.”

Puberty

Girls like Pauline can have their period and not feel ashamed

Some menstrual cramps can be as painful as early labour pains. And yet - to add insult to injury - girls across the world are frequently made to feel dirty or shameful for being on their period.

Did you know? Due to lack of sanitary protection and facilities, girls often have to miss days of school or work when they’re on their periods. Being forced to use improvised menstrual hygiene materials can also lead to infection.

When Pauline got her first period at school three years ago, she had no idea what was happening to her. She’d never heard about menstruation so she was horrified to find her skirt soaked with blood in front of all her classmates.

“The boys started laughing at me and I felt ashamed,” she recalls. In those days it was common for boys at her school in rural, eastern Uganda, to draw pictures of slaughtered hens to mock the girls if they noticed blood on their skirts. “Madam, it’s like this one has been raped,” they would say to their teacher.

“I did not go back to school for two months due to fear of being embarrassed by boys,” said Pauline.

In Uganda – menstruating girls are often perceived as “unclean” and are even believed to have the power to stop crops from growing!

That’s why as part of our Champions of Change programme, we’re tackling period shame and myths head on by teaching young people about menstruation. Both girls and boys are learning how to make reusable sanitary towels which are affordable and of good quality.

And they’re learning that periods are nothing to be ashamed of, too.

Teenagers

Women can choose if and when they have babies

Every year 7.3 million girls become pregnant before they turn 18 and an estimated 2 million girls give birth before their 15th birthday.

Shocked? So are we.

Teenage pregnancy increases when girls are denied the right to make decisions about their sexual health and wellbeing.

Without access to sexual and reproductive health services and sex education, girls are at greater risk of becoming pregnant as teens.

Did you know? Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the second highest cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19.

Nicaragua has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Latin America. But with the support of our Girl Power project, young people are having some frank and open discussions about the risks of becoming a teen parent - and are learning how to avoid it.

Slilma*, 16, lives in a rural, coastal area of Nicaragua where the teen pregnancy rate is high. She had her daughter at 14 after her boyfriend refused to wear a condom. She hasn’t seen him since she told him she was expecting.

With the help of Plan International, Slilma is able to continue her studies whilst raising her daughter, and is determined to help other girls not fall to the same fate.

“I want to give advice to teenagers and educate them about early pregnancy. Young people shouldn’t do what I did, as being a teenage mother has had a major impact on my life. Now, girls and boys come and talk to me about issues they are facing. I was lucky to have received so much support. I am eager to use my experience positively and help others in my community.”

*Name changed to protect identity.

Motherhood

Women can live through childbirth and be happy, healthy parents

Every day, more than 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of those deaths happened in developing countries. [source]

Most are directly related to complications during delivery that could have been prevented through access to quality essential obstetric care.

In countries with high maternal mortality rates, access to maternal healthcare services can be affected by gender inequality and women’s low social status.

Did you know? In Haiti, for every 100,000 live births, 630 women die – the highest maternal mortality rate in the Americas. [source]

Plan International handed over a fully equipped ambulance to the Haitian National Ambulance Center (CAN) with the aim of saving mother’s and newborn baby’s lives. Nadya, 28, is grateful for this. She experienced a complicated delivery as she was giving birth to her first child. “The ambulance didn’t take long to arrive. It saved my life and my son’s life.”

From October to December 2017, the ambulance was called out 80 times, taking 27 mothers and 4 babies to hospital for life-saving treatment.


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