Risk and protective factors affecting adolescent reproductive health in developing countries
Over the past decade, adolescent sexual and reproductive health concerns have increasingly been on national agendas. For many countries, this concern has been driven by the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS among young people. In other countries, a central concern has been early childbearing; and still others have focused predominantly on sexual behaviours among adolescents. Increasingly research and programme experience has shown that it is neither feasible nor productive to focus on one isolated behaviour without addressing a broader set of adolescent sexual and reproductive health concerns. In addition, there is mounting evidence that the most effective interventions enhance protective factors of young people and do not simply attempt to reduce risk.
Concurrent with this increased focus on young people has been a vast proliferation of research exploring factors associated with a number of health outcomes. So too, there has been a rising interest in identifying those factors that not only predispose to harm but also diminish risk.
By definition, factors are called “protective” if they discourage one or more behaviours that might lead to negative health outcomes (e.g., having sex with many partners) or encourage behaviours that might prevent a negative health outcome (e.g., using condoms and contraception). Similarly, factors are labelled “risk” if they either encourage or are associated with one or more behaviours that might lead to a negative health outcome or discourage behaviours that might prevent them (Kirby, 2002).
In order to determine which risk and protective factors are important for adolescent sexual and reproductive health behaviours, the Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH) commissioned a comprehensive review of the literature. Knowing what these factors are, and how they operate, will not only help to target those youth who are at greatest risk for negative health outcomes, but will also help to design more effective programmes.