To Tackle Population Issues, Meet People Where They’re At

PROPEL Health
3 min readJul 9, 2019

By Anna Lisi, HP+

Hastings Banda, Christina Chilimba, and Foster Mafiala were trained by HP+ to strengthen their policy and advocacy skills as they participate in high-level meetings and policy decisions that affect youth in Malawi.
Photo by: Malumbo Simwaka, Amaru Photography.

World Population Day urges us to reflect on the immediate importance of population issues around the globe. In a developing country with a booming population, one way to ensure there are enough resources to go around is to increase knowledge and access to family planning. The positive effect that voluntary family planning programs can have on a country’s development is widely documented. In Malawi, a mostly rural country, I saw how the Health Policy Plus (HP+) project, funded by USAID, is helping tackle population growth by meeting people where they are.

First, I spoke with Khadija, who told me about her work to share information about family planning in women’s groups, called dowas, in Nhkotakota. She is a member of QMAM — the Qadria Muslim Association of Malawi — one of a handful of faith-based bodies that reaches out to communities with family planning messages. Given the importance of religion to Malawian society — 97 percent identify with a faith — it can be an effective way to share information.

According to Khadija, some women in hard to reach places have never heard of family planning and it is a welcome message — on average, women in Malawi have more children than desired. Women she speaks with are eager to take a break from child-rearing so they can focus on building businesses and earning money for their families. She noted that facilities in the communities where she’s worked have reported an increase in the number of women accessing family planning.

After discussing family planning with women’s groups, Kadija said, “I’ve received so many calls, when are you coming back to teach us.” Photo by: Anna Lisi, HP+.

Another important communication channel in Malawi, especially in rural areas, is community radio. Through HP+, Developing Radio Partners (DRP) has provided communities with the skills and resources to produce and air weekly radio shows. In particular, young adults are talking with youth groups and others about issues that affect young people in Malawi, such as the high rate of teenage pregnancy, early marriage, school drop-out, and HIV. These young adults have been trained by DRP to record, produce, and air the discussions.

The aim of these programs is to inform the population of services that are available to them, which are part of the country’s national growth and development strategy and youth-friendly health services strategy. Results reported from the project indicate an increase in health-seeking behavior among youth as well as behavior change among traditional and religious leaders. For example, a pastor in Mchinji will no longer bless weddings in which the bride is under the age of 18 and, in Nkhotakota, a village headman put in place new bylaws aimed at ending school dropouts after hearing a radio program on the topic.

Innocent Kamanga, manager at Chiluda Community Radio, talks about the effects of early marriage on young women — they are forced to drop out of school; “poverty chases them.” Photo by: Malumbo Simwaka, Amaru Photography.

Some of the most inspiring people I spoke with were the young adults who are engaging with high-level decision-makers and joining national and international bodies to advocate for the needs of other young people. In a country with a huge youth population that faces serious challenges with teenage pregnancy, staying in school, and finding enough good jobs, these 20-something “youth champions” are passionate about changing the status quo.

Christina, Foster, Hastings, and other youth champions discuss, “In Their Own Words,” how they’re working to expand youth-friendly health services and create a brighter future for Malawi’s youth.

Foster Mafiala is 1 of 25 youth champions trained by HP+ to develop individual advocacy work plans to implement in their communities. Foster’s hope for the future of the country is to “see each and every young person staying healthy, completing education, finding a sustainable job, and in the end, boosting the economy of the country.” The champions are actively implementing their work plans and share their progress, challenges, and opportunities with one another through WhatsApp.

These are just some examples of how HP+ is meeting people where they are — through faith-based, radio, and advocacy groups — to bring about the change that these individuals are seeking.

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PROPEL Health

USAID-funded project working with local actors to improve conditions for more equitable and sustainable health services, supplies, and delivery systems.