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NFPB goes 'virtual' with safe sex campaign

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor — features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, March 03, 2014    

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IN its expanded role as managers of the national STI programme, the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) is currently designing a virtual classroom incorporating social media and mobile technologies to deliver its safe sex campaigns more effectively to adolescents and teens.

Members of the board and its partners -- including UNESCO, UNFPA and UNICEF -- who retreated to the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel last week to discuss details of the project and finalise a communication and content strategy, told the Jamaica Observer that the new thrust is a strategic opportunity intended to correct what they say is the habit of teens accessing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information from unreliable sources. The practice, they contend, feeds myths and unhealthy practices.

"There are so many myths out there, it's unreal," said digital strategist Ingrid Riley.

"Jamaica's young people are connecting to mostly inaccurate, negatively influential sources of sexual reproductive health information and that has led to some harmful beliefs and lifestyle behaviours. Additionally, in the current school system, the communication of sexual and reproductive health is done through the school curriculum and guidance counselling mechanism [which] is now seen as failing to meet Jamaica's young people where they are due to legal and policy constraints," she continued.

Riley said this has resulted in an "outdated and dogmatic approach to teaching sexual health and reproductive health that has not resonated, especially with teenagers aged 13 to 19".

Proof of that, according to the stakeholders, is in the data from the Knowledge, Attitude, Perceptions and Behaviour survey which show very little change in risky behaviour among the youth population in spite of their multi-million spend over the years.

"Our partners have put a lot of work into improving young people's knowledge and skills in sexual and reproductive health and yet we are getting data such as this: that over 60 per cent of young people cannot correctly identify ways of preventing HIV transmission; that between 8.4 per cent and 14.6 per cent of them are having unwanted pregnancies, while between 47.4 per cent and 66.2 per cent of them are mistimed," NFPB communications officer Racquel Reece told the Observer.

The virtual classroom is expected to present trusted, interactive and positively influential sources of information from which young people can make healthy lifestyle choices. And it makes sense to go online, given the technological penetration among adolescents.

"We have to go where our young people are and our young people are in the virtual space," Reece emphasised.

Going there is one thing, having an effective outcome is quite another, Riley explained. Among her recommendations to that end is to use content that is culturally relevant, such as patois and local popular music.

Otherwise, she said, "We're going to be here again two, three years from now if we don't get it together and do things differently, even if it means flouting some of the established ways of doing things."

Literature distributed at the retreat said the overarching goal of the project is to use information and communications technology to improve young people's sexual reproductive skills and knowledge by expanding their access to quality, age-appropriate and culturally relevant information. It is also seeking to strengthen the participation of adolescent youth in creating content and driving dialogue on SRH issues that affect them.

"A space like this gives equal access to information, despite one's socio-economic background," Reece pointed out.

The NFPB did not give an exact date for the completion of the virtual classroom, but said it would be within the year. Its other partners are ASHE Company, Eve for Life, Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, Jamaica Red Cross, Talk up Yout, Help Ja's Children, Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication, and National Centre for Youth Development.

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