In the Philippines, religious conservatism influences both society and the law. As a result, sex and sexuality are not openly discussed. Less than 60 percent of girls and women have access to reproductive healthcare. This allows myths and misconceptions to spread: teens think jumping up and down after sex can prevent pregnancy, women think contraceptive pills cause cancer, and that sexually transmitted infections can be cured by drinking bleach.
Adolescents have little accurate knowledge of safe sex. Consequently, teenage pregnancy and the spread of disease are pervasive. According to data from the Philippines Statistics Authority, 24 babies are delivered to teenage mothers every day.
The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world where the rate of HIV infection is on the rise. In 2016, there were 26 new reported cases of HIV every day, according to government studies, which state that risky sexual behaviour begins at about 15 years of age.
In Palawan, a province in the south-west Philippines, 22 percent of pregnancies are teenage pregnancies. In the country as a whole, 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned and 14 women die every day due to preventable pregnancy complications.
Roots of Health addresses high rates of unplanned teen pregnancies, maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS infections by providing access to education and health services.
Roots of Health runs comprehensive sexuality education classes in schools. It offers reproductive health services, providing girls with free contraceptives and pre and postnatal care in communities and clinics. Roots of Health trains young people on the basics of reproductive health and HIV and teaches them to communicate this information to their peers. These Youth Advocates (YAs) distribute condoms and refer sexually active youth to the clinic for contraception and HIV testing.
In schools, the organisation teaches a focused curriculum on comprehensive sexuality education, including information on healthy relationships, dealing with peer pressure, and making informed decisions about when to enter into sexual relationships, the reproductive systems, contraceptives, STIs and HIV.
Beneficiaries who show leadership skills are given further training as Community Health Advocates and go on to assist the clinical team and help keep track of the progress of women in their communities.
Roots of Health has been successful in changing the attitudes of parents, teachers and health workers by including them in activity-based training. Roots of Health has been steadily increasing the number of students it reaches each year. In 2016, it reached 13,000 and is aiming for 20,000 this year.