Posted by Maria Codina on March 27, 2018 at 9:00 am
By Anastasia Pirvu
Thanks to the Sustainable Humanities Fund from Leiden University I had the chance to conduct a field study for five weeks in Tanzania. The research focused on identifying information flows related to public health used by young women in the region. The study was done in partnership with Children’s Dignity Forum Tanzania (CDF) in Tarime, a town on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, where the organization had one of its regional offices. CDF is an NGO working on promoting children’s rights with a focus on issues related to child marriage, teenage pregnancy and FGM by engaging young men and women through workshops on income generating activities, peer-educators and life skills.
Research shows that much of the health challenges in the Global South, such as high prevalence of HIV, teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortions, arise due to a lack of general basic understanding on reproductive biology. However, engaging in open discussions on sexual and reproductive health is not always fruitful due to social and cultural barriers. (Dessie et. al., 2015) Using the theory of empowerment, I wanted to see how and if one can use technology to overcome these barriers when engaging in discussions on reproductive health, especially with young people.
Tanzania is a country at crossroads, with multiple social, economic, political and health reforms implemented during the past years. The country has witnessed a fast development and growth in the area of ICT, accounting for the country’s wide range of press, TV and radio channels both in Swahili and English (Murthy, 2011). Using ICT has proven to be an effective strategy with positive results as shown by multiple research and studies, not least when it comes to its implementation to bring about social change (Molony, 2009). Conducting research in a socially dynamic landscape was the deciding factor for choosing Tanzania.
The research was conducted in form of qualitative interviews and focus groups with young women from the region. Engaging in discussion on sexual health topics went rather well, nonetheless, bringing up some subjects such as teen pregnancy or discussing the use of contraceptive with the partner/husband remained sensitive.
Research findings point to a growing usage of ICT within the region, however mostly limited to radio and mobile phones. The media landscape in the country is rich and diverse but due to a limited infrastructure in many parts of the country, e.g. no electricity and poor roads connecting towns, it is difficult for media channels to gain a wide accessibility and availability, especially in the rural settings (Murthy, 2011).
Efforts in Tarime, Tanzania to improve information access on public health are visible, although they are more often than not handled as individual cases rather than collective attempts to work towards a long-term goal. A strong centralized system that allocates sufficient funds and resources for further developing sexual and reproductive health related matters is therefore required.
I came to the conclusion that the usage of ICT to engage in discussions related to sexual and reproductive health is limited. Almost everyone in the area owns a mobile phone and has access to radio, but these tools are not used in the area on SRHR. Instead, peer trainings are widespread and seen as effective methods in the region. Local NGOs choose young women who are trusted within their own communities and train them on basic public health matters. These women then act as “points of information” in the district. This method of information sharing is trusted and seen as more efficient than a talk show on radio or a workshop from a qualified hospital worker.
|· SRHR- Increased efforts on all levels
· ICT- Specific and limited to the area
· Empowerment- Future research needed in order to fully assess the local landscape
|· Peer trainings-most trusted form of information
· Centralized system with sufficient funds and resources
· ICT could be a potential tool, however not widespread at the moment
I would like to thank my supervisor who guided me through my periods of doubt and changes. It was only in the field, after getting acquainted with the local landscape that I knew exactly what my focus should be. This resulted in adjusting my research questions several times. I recall our WhatsApp calls and texts, brainstorming on the best way to proceed. As the town was small and the amount of things one can do limited, I would spend most of my evenings in the hotel room, diving deeper into the topics of SRHR and ICT. Well as much as the relatively slow Internet connection allowed. The food however made up for the connection. Rice or beans with chicken, cooked bananas and peanut butter sauce was on the daily menu and everything was delicious. And the local market with a supply of fresh fruits and veggies was just around the corner. The market also provided for the perfect opportunity to train my extremely limited Swahili knowledge.
Overall my experience in Tanzania was interesting, at times challenging, but very rewarding. Doing my graduate degree in International Relations, I was barely acquainted with the subject of SRHR before my supervisor suggested it as a thesis topic. After the field trip and after participating in the Annual ”Linking Research, Policy and Practice” Meeting organized by Share-Net, where I got lots of interesting inputs from other students and NGOs in the field, I would like to continue researching on the subject. The field trip generated some answers, but also new questions that could be interesting to look into. For example, since the use of mobile phones is widespread, introducing health related mobile apps in the region could be a way to raise awareness on public health issues. Or perhaps peer-educators could host SRHR talks on radio to reach out to a bigger audience.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or suggestions. I would be more than happy to hear your thoughts on the topic.
Dessie, Y., Berhane. Y. and Worku, A. (2015) Parent-Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Communication Is Very Limited and Associated with Adolescent Poor Behavioral Beliefs and Subjective Norms: Evidence from a Community Based Cross- Sectional Study in Eastern Ethiopia. PLoS ONE 10 (7).
Molony, T. (2009). Trading Places in Tanzania: Mobility and marginalisation in a time of travel-saving technologies’. In de Bruijn, M., F. Nyamnjoh, I. Brinkman (Eds.) Mobile Phones: The New Talking Drums of Everyday Africa. Afrika Studiecentrum, pp.92-109
Murthy, B. Intermedia. (2011). Tanzanian media environment. Current access, Potential for Growth and Strategies for Information Dissemination.