Siobhan Patricia Hayes
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Student: Siobhan Patricia Hayes
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My internship for Summer 2003 took place at the Sanitary District III office of Recife’s Secretary of Health. Sanitary District III is a division of the city of Recife that is responsible for the public health needs of 269,000 inhabitants in a city of over 3 million. My position was to evaluate the pilot program of an adolescent peer health educator (AESA) project headed by community health workers (CHWs). The main goal of the program was to involve adolescents in their communities, inform them of their rights and responsibilities as citizens, and increase their knowledge of reproductive health matters in order to decrease rates of unwanted adolescent pregnancy an STI transmission. CHWs, who already work for the secretary of health, were trained in citizenship and reproductive health subjects geared for adolescents, and would lead groups of 15-30 adolescents for 2 hours per week in order to cover these topics. These group meetings spanned nine months, during which the participating adolescents participated in community events, such as health fairs, public health campaigns, or talent shows, as representatives of the AESA program. Upon completion of their participation of the AESA program, adolescents broke off and started their own adolescent groups.

The program was largely unfunded by the Secretary of Health but was supported institutionally by the Sanitary District III manager. It was extremely popular with the participating adolescents and community health workers, who gained leadership skills and were regarded as sources of new information for the community. It is still early to determine whether unwanted pregnancy and STI rates have been affected, but anecdotal evidence indicates that participating adolescents experienced much lower rates of unintended pregnancy than the community at large. The AESA program won a statewide award for best adolescent program using popular education in 2003, and will continue this year with a new cohort of community health workers and adolescents. The program manager is seeking funding both from the secretary of health and from outside sources.

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