Two Mega-Funders Take Aim at Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Africa

The funding field for global sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is pretty well populated, with some new funders entering this space in recent years. The same can't be said when comes to adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH), which is considerably less crowded. On the other hand, several mega-funders are keenly interested in this area.

Recently, two of these leaders came together to launch a contraception outreach program that aims to “change the way we reach teenagers with contraception, at scale.”

Related:A Funder That Isn’t Afraid of Adolescent Sexuality

Adolescents 360 is a program funded by a multi-year, $16.5 million grant from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF). That investment was matched by the Gates Foundation for a total gift of $33 million. Launched earlier this year, the program aims to “reinvent sexual and reproductive health services,” with a focus on girls at the center of the program’s development and design.

Adolescents 360 is starting by asking girls directly about the sexual and reproductive health challenges they face and what they think are viable solutions. Once that input has been gathered and possible solutions vetted, the program’s leaders and partners will begin developing and launching pilot programs, eventually bringing successful pilots to scale in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Supporting ASRH programs is sort of old hat for CIFF, which is a relative newcomer on the global philanthropic scene. And while contraception is just one area where CIFF focuses its funding, it does receive a lot of attention from the foundation. For example, there was a $36 million pledge in 2013 toward a 50 percent price reduction for contraceptive implants. Gates, by the way, also partnered with CIFF on that particular undertaking.

Since then, CIFF has dedicated over $75 million to ASRH causes ranging from prevention of unwanted teen pregnancy in Kenya to large-scale human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine campaigns. It should be noted that the $75 million figure does not include CIFF’s previously mentioned $36 million commitment. 

The Gates Foundation hasn’t been nearly as active as CIFF in the ASRH space. However, it seems to be coming around, awarding just under $2 million in ASRH grants last year. Prior to that, no grants specifically geared toward adolescent sexual and reproductive health had been awarded by the foundation. 

Related: Gates Has a New Partner in Push to Advance Injectable Contraceptive

It’s a bit worrisome that ASRH isn’t a higher priority for global health funders, especially considering the fact that the global youth population has reached about 1.8 billion. That statistic includes young people ages 10 to 24, so sexual and reproductive health matters don't apply to all of them—not yet anyway. Regardless, these numbers point to a huge challenge in terms of empowering young people to responsibly manage their sexuality and reproductive futures.