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Designing for women in the Sub-Sahara

When it comes to the nutrition levels of young women in underserved contexts, there is a knowledge gap around the eating habits and health-seeking behaviours of adolescent girls and young women. Most development and humanitarian programming is targeted toward maternal and newborn health, leaving a critical gap in nutrition data on women between age 10 and childbirth. Recent studies have shown this time is a critical period where high nutrition levels can have an enormous impact on healthy pregnancies, and reduce childhood mortality rates.
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition
Research insights, Behaviour change
Public health
Project Team
Dean Johnson's profile'
Carlyn James's profile'

Nutrition practices in Sub-Saharan Africa are often prescribed by cultural norms and harsh climate conditions, and don’t always promote healthy behaviour. Chronic household food shortages and low access to quality health services are among the main causes of malnutrition among women and adolescent girls of childbearing age - which can have devastating effects on mother and child mortality rates.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) is supporting private and public partners across Sub-Saharan Africa to deliver a mNutrition initiative in 14 countries including Ghana, Tanzania and Mozambique. The idea is to get more targeted, human-centred health content to women in this age group, to increase their use of health-promoting nutritional practices and to drive behaviour change such as eating more vegetables, going for regular pre- natal check ups and taking prescribed vitamins.

ThinkPlace worked with GAIN in Ghana and Tanzania to fill the knowledge gaps around adolescent girls and their nutritional needs. In Mozambique, we conducted exploratory research on behalf of GAIN and with the support of UNICEF, USAID and UNFPA.

In Ghana and Tanzania, we conducted research with young women and designed personas that represented their main health motivations. In Tanzania, we assembled a core design team that included the Ministry of Health, the Tanzanian Food and Nutrition Board, Every1 Mobile and GAIN to redesign messages for young women based on the personas. We tested the messages directly with the persona groups at maternal health clinics in Dar es Salaam. Our process was rapid, user-centric and built internal capability within these organisations to continue to be able to design, test and iterate on content based on their learning with ThinkPlace and in the field.

The result was a content writing guide to help health communicators produce content that will resonate with young women in Sub-Saharan Africa, and help them to make positive health choices.

<p>Because the majority of nutrition interventions target women during pregnancy and through lactation and children up to the age of two, our shared understanding of adolescent girls’ nutrition is relatively low and fragmented. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to have more adolescents than any other region by 2050 (UNICEF, 2011). </p>