How many of you have spoken to your teenagers about their reproductive lives? How many teachers discuss this very important chapter with their young students even though it has been included in all school text books in India as part of the Biology Curriculum? As the President of the Federation of Obstetric & Gynecological Societies of India (FOGSI) in 2006, I had knocked on the doors of the Government in Delhi, worked along with global organizations such as WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF, and campaigned with the Ministry of Health, for Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH) information to be imparted to all in schools. After we demonstrated the need to educate our young on this issue, the Health Ministry made it mandatory for it to be included in school text books in India in 2008.
India has the largest number of young people as compared to anywhere else in the world, we truly are a young nation! And we would like our young to be healthy so that they can lead our country to a healthier nation. They truly are our champions and we need to make sure that we give them the correct knowledge at the right time, so that they can prevent mishaps which can cause permanent harm to their health.
One in four pregnancies worldwide ends in an abortion, which can be a very risky procedure if done by an untrained provider. Yet, close to half of all abortions done worldwide are unsafe, killing half a million women and disabling another 5 millions every year. Legalizing abortion makes it safe, and India was one of the first countries to legalize abortions. Yet In a study done in India, 6.4 million induced abortions were reported each year with more than half (3.6 million) being unsafe killing 10 women every single day! All these deaths are preventable, especially if we educate our young about ARSH and prevent unwanted pregnancies, and give them the confidence to talk to their parents if such a situation arises, thus preventing unsafe abortions.
I have always believed in preventive health and it became my personal agenda way back in the year 2000 to educate young girls on their puberty and menstruation, and remove the negative myths of menstruation, making it a more positive event in a girls life. These talks gradually progressed to talks with older girls varying from 14 yrs – 25 yrs. We talked to them about human reproduction, sexuality, reproductive tract infections, unsafe abortions, contraception etc. My team of 1000 gynecologists went all over India talking to millions of girls in schools, colleges, post graduate colleges, and over a ten year period till 2010, we covered around 8 million girls and a few lakh boys in various cities and towns all over India!
Ten long years of one to one talking! But we could never get the same group of young people to address, in order to really make an impact on their knowledge on reproduction. We closed our program after making it a part of the school curriculum with the help of the Health Ministry, and I felt satisfied that our efforts were fruitful it and schools would now take over the responsibility of educating our teens.
Today, I am happy to find that “menstruation/ periods” is a word spoken easily by girls and boys and heard even on TV! But “reproduction and sexuality” is still a taboo! It is so very important for us to speak to our young! Hence through the WE Foundation (NGO) we have now created an “App” which speaks about all the above issues, it is truly interactive with the correct responses being given by a doctor team. With this App our young can read all the correct scientific information they need, in their own private space and ask the questions they are too shy to ask their shy parents. The “Too Shy to ask” app is available free of cost on the App Store and Play Store and I do hope that teens who seek the correct information get it from here, rather than from their friends, magazines or unhealthy sites on the net or teachers who did not tell them all they needed to know
I ask myself, what will I achieve by spreading this information? I believe that better understanding of reproduction by both boys and girls, will alert them about unsafe sex. By giving the correct information, we will not be increasing the number of teenagers who will be having premarital sex, but we will make the same numbers practice safe sex. This will reduce the number of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HPV and other infections such as chlymadial infections which lead to infertility, chronic abdominal pain, cancer and even death
By giving the correct information we will prevent unwanted pregnancies which could end in unsafe abortions leading to serious complications and disability! I do hope this App fulfills this gap in our Society and the WE Foundation (Women’s Empowerment Foundation) is willing to take this knowledge further in various languages, as the App matures !