Improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health in Latin America: reflections from an International Congress


In February 2014, an international congress on Promoting Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) took place in Cuenca, Ecuador. Its objective was to share evidence on effective ASRH intervention projects and programs in Latin America, and to link this evidence to ASRH policy and program development. Over 800 people participated in the three-day event and sixty-six presentations were presented.

This paper summarizes the key points of the Congress and of the Community Embedded Reproductive Health Care for Adolescents (CERCA) project. It aims at guiding future ASRH research and policy in Latin America.

1. Context matters. Individual behaviors are strongly influenced by the social context in which they occur, through determinants at the individual, relational, family, community and societal levels. Gender norms/attitudes and ease of communication are two key determinants.

2. Innovative action. There is limited and patchy evidence of effective approaches to reach adolescents with the health interventions they need at scale. Yet, there exist several promising and innovative examples of providing comprehensive sexuality education through conventional approaches and using new media, improving access to health services, and reaching adolescents as well as families and community members using community-based interventions were presented at the Congress.

3. Better measurement. Evaluation designs and indicators chosen to measure the effect and impact of interventions are not always sensitive to subtle and incremental changes. This can create a gap between measured effectiveness and the impact perceived by the targeted populations.

Thus, one conclusion is that we need more evidence to better determine the factors impeding progress in ASRH in Latin American, to innovate and respond flexibly to changing social dynamics and cultural practices, and to better measure the impact of existing intervention strategies. Yet, this Congress offered a starting point from which to build a multi-agency and multi-country effort to generate specific evidence on ASRH with the aim of guiding policy and program decision-making. In a region that contains substantial barriers of access to ASRH education and services, and some of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world, the participants agreed that there is no time to lose.

Authors & affiliation: 
Kathya Córdova Pozo 1; Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli 2; Peter Decat 3; Erica Nelson 4; Sara De Meyer 3; Lina Jaruseviciene 5; Bernardo Vega 6; Zoyla Segura 7; Nancy Auquilla 6; Arnold Hagens 1; Dirk Van Braeckel 3; Kristien Michielsen 3 1 South Group, C. Ecuador O-138, Edificio Holanda, A-3A, Cochabamba, Bolivia 2 Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, CH - 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland 3 International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH), Ghent University, De Pintelaan 185 6 K4, 9000 Gent, Belgium 4 Center for Social Science and Global Health, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Achtergracht 166, 1018 WV Amsterdam, The Netherlands 5 Department of Family Medicine, Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Kaunas 44307, Lithuania 6 University of Cuenca- Facultad de Ciencias Médicas, Avenida 12 de abril S/N sector El Paraíso, Cuenca, Ecuador 7 Instituto Centroamericano de la Salud, Reparto Los Robles, Restaurante La Marsellaise 1 c. al norte 1 c. al este, casa # 77, Managua, Nicaragua
Published In: 
Reproductive Health 2015. 12:11 doi:10.1186/1742-4755-12-11
Publication date: 
Saturday, January 24, 2015