Experiences of teachers and community-based health workers in addressing adolescents' sexual reproductive health and rights problems in rural health systems: a case of the RISE project in Zambia

BMC Public Health. 2023 Feb 15;23(1):335. doi: 10.1186/s12889-023-15199-5.


Background: Adolescents in low-and-middle-income countries like Zambia face a high burden of sexual, reproductive, health and rights problems including coerced sex, teenage pregnancies, and early marriages. The Zambia government through Ministry of Education has integrated comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in the education and school system to contribute towards addressing Adolescents sexual, reproductive, health and rights (ASRHR) problems. This paper sought to explore teachers and community based health workers (CBHWs)' experiences in addressing ASRHR problems in in rural health systems in Zambia.

Methodology: The study was conducted under Research Initiative to Support the Empowerment of Girls (RISE) community randomized trial that aims to measure the effectiveness of economic and community interventions in reducing early marriages, teenage pregnancies, and school dropout in Zambia. We conducted qualitative 21 in-depth interviews with teachers and CBHWs involved in the implementation of CSE in communities. Thematic analysis was used to analyse teachers and CBHWs´ roles, challenges, and opportunities in promoting ASRHR services.

Results: The study identified teachers and CBHWs roles, and challenges experienced in promoting ASRHR and suggested strategies to enhance delivery of the intervention. The role of teachers and CBHWs in addressing ASRHR problems included mobilizing and sensitizing the community for meetings, providing SRHR counseling services to both adolescents and guardians, and strengthening referral to SRHR services if needed. The challenges experienced included stigmatization associated with difficult experiences such as sexual abuse and pregnancy, shyness among girls to participate when discussing SRHR in the presence of the boys and myths about contraception. The suggested strategies for addressing the challenges included creating safe spaces for adolescents to discuss SRHR issues and engaging adolescents in coming up with the solution.

Conclusion: This study provides significant insight on the important roles that teachers CBHWs can play in addressing adolescents SRHR related problems. Overall, the study emphasizes the need to fully engage adolescents in addressing adolescents SRHR problems.

Keywords: Comprehensive Sexuality Education; RISE; Reproductive Health; Rights; Rural health systems; Sexual.

Plain language summary

Comprehensive sexuality education programmes are often not implemented properly because facilitators are not adequately prepared, and the community usually resist such programs. Similarly, in Zambia, the teachers and CBHWs implementing sexual and reproductive health activities often felt uncomfortable discussing sensitive sexuality topics with adolescents. This study was conducted within a bigger research project exploring whether teachers and community-based health workers together can effectively deliver sexual and reproductive health information at school and community levels. Discussions on the delivery of ASRHR services were held with teachers and CBHWs to identify their roles, and challenges that they experienced, and find solutions to problems. The interviews showed that the teachers and CBHWs provided sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) counselling to adolescents and parents. They were also involved in mobilising communities to attend SRHR meetings, sensitise, and refer them to SRHR services. However, teachers and CBHWs encountered several challenges. These include late reporting and hiding of sexual abuse cases, myths about contraceptives, and stigmatisation of girls with history of sexual abuse, and pregnancy. Further, girls felt shy to participate in SRHR discussions due to customary norms and values regarding marriage. More community engagement opportunities are needed to break the barriers of communication, and shift cultural norms to help enhance adolescent uptake of SRHR services in order to prevent pregnancy and other related challenges.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence* / prevention & control
  • Reproductive Health / education
  • Rural Health
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sexual Health*
  • Zambia