GIFTS for adolescent girls in Ghana
31 October 2017, Accra, Ghana
In an attempt to reduce extremely alarming high rate of anaemia among adolescent girls in Ghana, the Girls Iron Folate Tablet Supplementation (GIFTS) initiative was launched by The First Lady, Her Excellency Rebecca Akuffo Addo, on the International Day of the Girl Child. The initiative was launched on 11 October 2017 by the Ministries of Health and Education in partnership with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other development partners in Swedru, the capital of the Brong Ahafo region.
Of the two million girls aged between 15 and 19 years old in Ghana, around one million are anaemic. Being anaemic can cause dizziness, tiredness and headaches. The repercussions can leave adolescent girls feeling unwell, not able to take part in physical activity, and ultimately it can set them back at school, reducing school performance and sometimes causing girls to drop out of school.
Anaemia’s long-term negative effects on the health and wellbeing of adolescent girls, underline the need for systematic action at all levels to ensure girls’ futures are not compromised.
The GIFTS initiative, the first of the kind in Africa, will provide free iron and folic acid supplementation to menstruating girls and women aged 10-19 years. The first phase of the programme is starting in four of the ten regions with a potential for scale up depending on availability of funding. In the four regions the programme will reach 360,000 girls in junior and senior high schools, vocational and training institutions and 600,000 girls who are not in these institutions or out of school.
Anaemia – which is a result of a lack of iron - is caused partly through the Ghanaian diet which is high in carbohydrates, with less iron and protein rich foods, and less vegetables and fruits, which help the body to utilise iron. Girls of reproductive age are also more at risk because of menstruation – also contributing to a loss in iron.
Launching the programme, the First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akuffo Addo, said that “it is critical to invest in the health of girls and through this initiative we can’t put a prize on the number of girls who will be saved.”
Significantly, the success of the first phase of the initiative is built on an effective collaboration between the Ghana Health and Education Service, and an existing School Health Education Programme, and their respective relationships with UNICEF.
Other actions that have been put in place to curb the high anaemic rates: More than 4500 teachers and 3000 health workers have been trained to implement the programme which includes nutrition and health education for adolescent boys and girls around the country taking into consideration their age and gender specific needs. Teachers will encourage girls in schools to take one supplement every Wednesday at noon after a meal and community health workers will assist girls in the communities who are out of school.
Furthermore, a baseline study supported through collaboration with the United States Center for Disease Control has been conducted and will be followed up with further assessments on the impact of the initial phase, a critical component that will inform the plans for a national scale up.
The programme is currently enjoying goodwill from interested stakeholders who include political leaders, Queen Mothers, other traditional leaders and development partners. The first phase of the programme is expected to end in 2019, but with a 20 per cent reduction in anaemia in the four regions and improved knowledge of adolescent girls on anaemia, nutrition and other preventative practices.