Health department tackles reproductive health issues in Sevastopol, Ukraine

Midwife Natalia Chabak counsels community members and provides them with USAID donated condoms. Photo by Olena Igonina
In 2008, Sevastopol had the third highest abortion rate and the third lowest use of modern contraception in Ukraine, according to Ministry of Health statistics. The 2007 Demographic Health Survey found that the teenage pregnancy rates in the southern oblasts of Ukraine (including Sevastopol) were nearly twice the national average.

"These statistics were alarming. For us health professionals, it was a wake up call," said Maryna Zimina, the head Ob-Gyn of the Sevastopol Health Department. "We asked ourselves, 'What can we do to reverse this negative trend?' and concluded that we need to try to develop a long-term plan."

The leaders of the Sevastopol City Health Department made the idea of a long-term plan a reality with the help of a special meeting entitled "Reproductive Health of the Nation up to 2015." The event, organized with support from JSI's Together for Health (TfH) project, brought together local health professionals involved in reproductive, maternal, and child health to discuss the steps needed to create effective local programs throughout Ukraine.

After the meeting, Sevastopol Health Department representatives were among the first in the country to begin developing a local reproductive health program. The team decided to make teen pregnancy, quality of family planning services, prenatal care, and reproductive health cancers the main focuses of the program. Keeping these issues in mind, the representatives selected activities that would educate youth on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and how to adopt healthy lifestyles. The proposed program would also focus on introducing family planning counseling, especially among people with low incomes.

After drafting the plan, the Sevastopol team approached TfH for assistance in finalizing the program. "The commitment of the Sevastopol team was obvious from the very beginning of our collaboration," said Natalia Zaglada, TfH project policy coordinator. "At the launch event, they openly spoke about local reproductive health problems and started working on their local program right after the national meeting."

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the team from the City Health Department, the Sevastopol Reproductive Health Program for 2008-2015 was approved by the City Council. Together for Health has supported the program by providing reference manuals on family planning and reproductive health for health providers, educational materials for clients, and 75,000 condoms to be distributed to vulnerable populations.

The TfH project has provided basic family planning and reproductive health training for health professionals working with various groups in Sevastopol. The trainings help them better understand the concepts of client-centered care, family planning counseling, and modern contraceptive methods. In addition to the training courses, TfH organized a series of outreach events to promote available family planning services and provide information on safer reproductive health behaviors in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

The partnership between the Sevastopol Municipal State Administration, and the USAID-funded Together for Health (TfH) family planning project is an example of how donors and local governments can successfully address an important issue.