Since 1987, the Cameroon National Planning Association for Family Welfare (CAMNAFAW), has been the country’s leading provider of sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH).
CAMNAFAW delivers healthcare including contraceptive, abortion and HIV-related, through a variety of clinics and youth outreach run by full-time staff and supported by over a thousand volunteers.
Yet, healthcare is limited, and women, men and young people are being denied access to crucial healthcare including safe abortion and contraception. Cameroon continues to suffer from high rates of maternal and child mortality, exacerbated by the widespread practice of unsafe abortion. Around 560,000 people (3.7%) of a population of 24 million are HIV positive.
Young women who get pregnant outside marriage face systemic discrimination and will frequently try to end the pregnancy themselves using widely available household products, herbal remedies, or large amounts of alcohol.
“They are often refused access to state services and asked if they have no shame about getting pregnant, and (nurses) threaten to tell their parents,” said Aline Mekone Njanjo, midwife at CAMNAFAW’s SOA clinic, on the outskirts of Yaoundé.
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Comprehensive abortion care and contraception are key priorities for IPPF and its Member Associations. The Global Comprehensive Abortion Care Initiative (GCACI) supports this work in 16 Member Associations including CAMNAFAW.
The overarching goal of GCACI is to improve access to comprehensive quality abortion care (safe abortion and/ or treatment for incomplete abortion depending on local context) and contraceptive care as integral components of sexual and reproductive health.
Beyond CAMNAFAW’s clinics, hundreds of peer educators and youth volunteers nationwide manage an outreach programme aimed at busting myths surrounding contraception, sexually transmitted infections and abortion.
Some of these views are entrenched: traditional attitudes to childbearing and the strong influence of Catholic and evangelical churches have contributed to many taboos surrounding contraception and abortion in Cameroon.
CAMNAFAW staff, peer educators and youth volunteers are contributing to a shift in understanding, particularly in urban areas, about the importance of contraception.
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Adapting services for young people
Over 60% of Cameroon’s population is under the age of 25. CAMNAFAW believes that understanding and use of contraception protects young people’s health and wellbeing. For this reason, CAMNAFAW’s healthcare delivery is adapted to the schedule and lifestyles of young people, to encourage uptake of the clinic's abortion and contraceptive care.
CAMNAFAW have also to be mindful with those delivering care to the young people that step through their doors. Having younger staff available makes young people feel more at ease when asking for information or receiving care, and clinics open early to allow them to visit before classes at school or university.
Social media campaigns run by Youth Action Movement (YAM) volunteers engage young people on their phones in an accessible manner, while events organized in educational establishments and on campus bring accurate information about abortion and contraception directly to students.
Finally, peer educators target young men at events including football games to encourage close groups of friends to think about contraception.
These efforts have contributed to huge drops in the rate of deaths among mothers and children since the 1990s, even if much remains to be done.
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