The Challenge Initiative intensifies partnerships with cities to reduce teenage pregnancy

Cagayan de Oro Youth Community Development

The Challenge Initiative Philippines (TCI) increased its partner cities from three in 2020 to 13 only a year later after its launch. Through the strengthening of the program amid the COVID-19 pandemic, TCI engaged, trained, and capacitated local governments in implementing Adolescent and Youth Sexual Reproductive Health (AYSRH) interventions.

The first three cities (Cagayan de Oro, Dipolog, and Puerto Princesa) that volunteered to take part in the program reported significant progress in improving their policies and approaches in the implementation of AYSRH programs. The cities of Baguio, Santiago, San Jose, Biñan, Naga, Tacloban, Iloilo, Tagum, Tacurong, and General Santos are in the process of designing and implementing their own interventions, which will be based on the best practices from other TCI Hubs in other countries.

The Challenge Initiative (TCI) program, which is co-managed and co-funded by the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, and co-implemented with the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) and the Department of Health (DOH), aims to accelerate the reduction of teenage pregnancies in the Philippines by establishing adolescent-friendly health facilities that promote positive health-seeking behavior and improve access to family planning programs.

Quoting the data from the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics and the Philippine Statistics Authority, POPCOM Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III noted that “about 155 live births were born to minors every day in 2020, a decrease from 171 teen births in 2019.”

“There has been a steep decline of adolescent births (below 18 years old) from 62,510 in 2019 to 56,428 in 2020,” Undersecretary Perez said.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, adolescent birth rates were at 31 per 1,000 girls in 2020, which is lower than 47 per 1,000 based on the 2017 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS). The country baseline target in the Philippine Development Plan by 2022 is 37. POPCOM, on the other hand, aims to halve the baseline of 57 per 1,000 as stated in the 2013 NDHS, to 37 per 1,000 by 2022.

TCI Philippines and POPCOM have conducted advocacy meetings with 90 cities including the 10 new additions. City Leadership Teams for AYSRH from Cagayan de Oro, Dipolog City, and Puerto Princesa completed the Training of Trainers course on Leadership for Adolescent and Youth-Friendly Cities (LAYFC) for Barangay Leaders.

Dipolog City increased its budget allocation for family planning and AYSRH activities on top of its COVID-19 response while Puerto Princesa was able to establish Adolescent and Youth Friendly Health Facility and Services. Cagayan de Oro, for its part, strengthened its Information service delivery network (ISDN) and cascaded its AYSRH plan across the different departments and offices in the local government and other partners.

The new partner cities have also responded to the call of reducing teenage pregnancies. For example, Baguio City revealed that it plans to build a P380-million youth convergence center to give premium to the youth as indispensable partners in its AYSRH interventions.

Through the series of workshops and training, TCI Philippines was able to identify the gaps in the cities’ implementation of its AYSRH programs. Data collection and management have the potential to ensure the success of the program because it allows city health officers to monitor the gaps and address them accordingly.

“TCI helped Cagayan de Oro City define clearer dimensions of inter-agency efforts that led to minimizing duplications of services, providing unified directions, and structured budget allocations focus AYSRH through the program design,” said Dr. Rachel Dilla, City Health Officer of Cagayan de Oro City.

Dipolog City, for one, used its available tools to design its own data monitoring system. By creating its own database, the city was able to define and refine its approaches according to the near real time data it gathered.

“TCI’s high-impact approach helped us reduce teen pregnancy from 56 per 1,000 in 2019 to 22.2 per 1,000 in 2021,” said Dipolog City Mayor Darel Dexter Uy.

Puerto Princesa City fortified youth participation in its AYSRH intervention.

“In 2020, only 63% of the 66 SK Councils have appropriated an annual AYSRH Budget. In 2021, 100% of the 66 SKs have fully committed to allocate the AYSRH budget,” said Puerto Princesa City Councilor Myka Mabelle Magbanua.

“TCI helped define clearer dimensions of inter-agency efforts that led to minimizing duplications of services, providing unified directions, and structured budget allocations focus AYSRH through the program design,” said Dr. Rachel Dilla, City Health Officer, Cagayan de Oro City:

For data management, the TCI Core Team is using KoboCollect, an open-source Android app used to collect data through KoboToolbox. Developed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative it was initially introduced by the ZFF-TCI Team to POPCOM.

With more cities recognizing the urgency to reduce teenage pregnancy, TCI Philippines continues to lay the groundwork for interventions that local governments can implement.

Undersecretary Perez calls on local governments to “instigate social protection programs for young mothers and children.”

“(We need) to intensify community participation through comprehensive sexuality education beyond the school by engaging other stakeholders,” Undersecretary Perez said.

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The Challenge Initiative (TCI) is an urban reproductive health program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In the Philippines, TCI is co-managed and co-funded by the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, and co-implemented with the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) and the Department of Health (DOH). By leveraging proven high-impact interventions from other hubs across the world, TCI Philippines helps city leaders and local governments design their own interventions by capacitating them and providing training and workshops.