President Obama is visiting Ghana on July 10 and 11 to highlight that country’s success in promoting good governance and the positive effects a democratic government has had on Ghanaians’ health and lives. Ghana, the President asserts, is a model for other countries in the region to emulate.
It’s true, Ghana, which celebrated 50 years of independence in 2007, has served as a shining example of stability and progress in the region. Instrumental to that success has been Ghana’s forward-thinking commitment to investing in young people, namely by promoting access to education. Countries looking to replicate Ghana’s development achievements should look first at the support Ghana provides adolescents, helping them to avoid unwanted pregnancies and HIV so that they can continue on their paths toward productive adulthood.
Evidence from a four-country study of nearly 20,000 12–19-year-olds conducted by the Guttmacher Institute and African partners (including the University of Cape Coast in Ghana) reveals that young people in Ghana stay in school longer and have greater access to information on how to prevent unintended pregnancy and HIV/AIDS than adolescents in other Sub-Saharan countries. Fifty-one percent of young women and 38% of young men in Ghana have attended sex education classes or talks compared with 42% and 34% of young Ugandans, 14% and 26% of young Malawians and just 12% and 15% of young Burkinabè.
Greater access to information plays out in their behavior. Young Ghanaians delay having sex for the first time longer than their counterparts: Our study found that a larger proportion of 12–14-year-olds in Ghana had never engaged in any kind of sexual activity—such as kissing or fondling—than their peers in Burkina Faso, Malawi and Uganda. What’s more, we found that young Ghanaians are as, or more, likely than their counterparts in other countries to use contraceptives when they do become sexually active.
Of course, the glass is not all full. Ghana, like its neighbors in the region, has a long road ahead to shed its “developing country” status. Continued progress will require increased and sustained investment from both the Ghanaian government and the international donor community; and following Ghana’s lead will require mobilizing many more resources than are currently committed to Africa’s development.
But Ghana provides two keys as to how best to target the continent’s scarce resources to maximize impact. First, invest in young people. Second, do this through strong private-public partnerships. Critical to Ghana’s success in promoting young people’s sexual and reproductive health has been the close ties the country’s leading nongovernmental service provider, the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG) enjoys with Ghana Health Services, the agency which coordinates government-run health clinics. Across the country, PPAG has set up comprehensive and youth-friendly facilities, and then handed over the maintenance of these facilities to the government health system.
In holding Ghana up as a model of African good governance, President Obama should point to innovative partnerships like the one between PPAG and Ghana’s government. He should also highlight Ghana’s commitment to investing in young people. Democracy and stability in the region will only grow through investing in the next generation of African leaders.