Teen mum Sharon during her presentation on urgent maternal signs

Inside the MSF Teen Mums’ Club: Supporting pregnant adolescent girls in Zimbabwe

Young teenage girls face numerous challenges, especially when they unexpectedly fall pregnant. Usually, when this happens, it may mean dropping out of school temporarily until they give birth and re-enrol, or it may mean the end of their education road. 

To try and cushion young teenage mothers from some of these challenges, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Zimbabwe expanded its Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services in Mbare, one of the densely populated townships in Harare, to try and cater to their needs as well as support them.  

In Mbare, MSF offers a friendly, free and wide-ranging package of SRH services most suited for young people between 10 and 19 years old. The package of care includes mental health support, family planning provision, HIV care and treatment, Sexually Transmitted Illnesses (STI) diagnostic and treatment, as well as tuberculosis care. Within this project, MSF has initiated teen mums’ clubs, a one-stop shop where pregnant teenagers have access to antenatal care (ANC), and upon delivery, they continue to receive postpartum or new-born care to ensure good health for both mothers and their babies.

In these clubs, young mothers are exposed to helpful SRH information; they have access to family planning services, mental health and psychosocial support, social services, and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT).

Relative Chitungo, MSF social worker A social worker by profession, Relative has been leading a team focusing on the teen mothers programme for the past three of the 14 years she has been with MSF in Harare. Her team consists of health promoters and peer educators who mobilise teen mothers, nurses, midwives, and mental health specialists, to work together to ensure young mothers are fully supported.
Relative Chitungo MSF social Worker at the Teen Mums' CLub
On a day-to-day basis, we get at least five pregnant young girls coming to our facility in need of help. We collaborate with community mobilisers who mobilise community members, especially young pregnant girls, to come to the clinic, Relative Chitungo, MSF social worker in Zimbabwe

“Working with the young teenage mums, I have noted that there are borders that have been created for them due to cultural beliefs and communities they come from. Once they get pregnant, girls are deserted by their partners and families. At the same time, push factors that resulted in them getting pregnant are usually not acknowledged; people do not ask what hindered the girl child from accessing contraception, for example,” says Relative Chitungo, MSF Social worker in Mbare. “Parents force them to drop out of school, in the end, they can’t cope, and some are forced into early marriages, but at MSF, we do not want to create such borders, the girls should be supported.” 

“At the clinic, we give them more information about our services, establish if they would like to be enrolled in the antenatal clinic, and if they agree, we then book them.   If they are interested in enrolling in our teen mums’ clubs where they can get extra support, we discuss that as well,” adds Relative.

Teen mums' doing their exercise with MSF social worker
Working with teen mums also aligns with my career objectives as a social worker. Social work seeks to address the challenges that one is facing and try to engage the support system to bring change in people's lives. Relative Chitungo, MSF social worker in Zimbabwe

So far, Relative and her team have engaged up to nine groups of teen mums’ clubs made up of 20 to 25 participants. In these groups, pregnant girls go through a health education curriculum covering key topics on HIV, STIs, mental health, psychosocial support, Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV), contraception, as well as exposure to income-generating projects like detergent making, manicure and pedicure. They attend discussion sessions and income-generating training for at least three months. During this time, they also watch movies for fun.

The idea is to create a safe space for them to exchange ideas with their peers and unwind. MSF has also partnered with other organisations to support birth preparation packs consisting of towels, nappies, cotton wool, maternity pads and methylated spirit for expecting mothers. 

Relative showing the teen mum how to make hand love sign
MSF social work Relative Chitungo showing the teen mum how to make a love sign using their hands.

"She told her parents about her situation, and she had decided to elope, but her parents, through engaging with us at MSF, convinced her otherwise. In the end, she realised it was not the end of the world. Fortunately, our efforts and those of her parents paid off. She decided to continue with her education and is currently doing her Advanced Level and wants to be an Information Technology Specialist and still attends the teen mum’s club. This is the energy and spirit we encourage young mothers to have and to understand that they can rise above this," says Relative, recollecting a story about a determined 18-year-old girl who fell pregnant while doing her Ordinary Level, who, despite this huge hurdle, came out of this experience as a much stronger person. 

Relative hopes the teen mums’ club initiative expands within and beyond Zimbabwe so that many young mothers can benefit from it.