WHO looks to English strategy to lower global teenage pregnancy rates

World Health Organisation (WHO)

Alison Hadley OBE, the University of Bedfordshire academic who helped to bring about record lows in teenage pregnancies in England, has been called on by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to share the key successes of the strategy, so that other countries can learn from England’s approach.

In a new paper in the Journal of Adolescent Health, published today (24 May 2016), Alison Hadley, who co-authored the paper with Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli (WHO) and Roger Ingham of the University of Southampton, details the strategy she implemented which has led to a 51% drop in teenage pregnancies since 1998. The paper is in response to a request from the WHO, which identified that there are very few other programmes worldwide which have had such success. The WHO is seeking to identify the lessons from the UK Labour Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy for England and apply them globally.

The paper examines the original ten point strategy (see figure 1), and analyses whether the approach could be scaled up to address global teenage pregnancy rates. It was found, (through comparison with other successful programmes in demographically different countries, Estonia, Columbia and Mozambique for example), that there were seven elements (see figure 2) that were necessary for a successful national programme and that the UK Strategy encompassed every one.

Alison Hadley is Director of the Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange at the University of Bedfordshire and the government’s teenage pregnancy adviser.

Alison Hadley
Alison Hadley, Director of the Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange at the University of Bedfordshire

She says: “The WHO made it clear that the UK strategy is unique in both its extraordinary success and its impact on families from deprived backgrounds and has many features that are transferable to low and middle income countries.

“It’s very exciting to think that the plans we rolled out, and that made such a positive impact across England, could be used around the world. Because teenage pregnancy affects the health and life chances of young parents and their children, high levels are a concern to an increasing number of countries. Our strategy demonstrated that effective education programmes and easier access to contraception, equips young people to make choices and brings down rates even in deprived areas.

Key to success was government commitment, strong coordination between agencies and sufficient time to effect change.

“But as we share the lessons internationally, we need to continue the reductions at home. Key to further progress will be to make comprehensive sex and relationships education statutory in all schools. We still lag behind our Western European neighbours and there is considerable variation in rates across England. If we do not continue our work on prevention, the figures will rise again.”