Documenting good practices: scaling up the youth friendly health service model in Colombia
Background: Young people make up for 24.5 % of Latin America’s population. Inadequate supply of specific and timely sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and sexuality education for young people increases their risk of sexual and reproductive ill health. Colombia is one of the few countries in Latin America that has implemented and scaled up specific and differentiated health and SRH services-termed as its Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) Model.
Objective: To provide a systematic description of the crucial factors that facilitated and hindered the scale up process of the YFHS Model in Colombia.
Methods: A comprehensive literature search on SRH services for young people and national efforts to improve their quality of care in Colombia and neighbouring countries was carried out along with interviews with a selection of key stakeholders. The information gathered was analysed using the World Health Organization-ExpandNet framework (WHO-ExpandNet).
Results/Discussion: In 7 years (2007–2013) of the implementation of the YFHS Model in Colombia more than 800 clinics nationally have been made youth friendly. By 2013, 536 municipalities in 32 departments had YFHS, resulting in coverage of 52 % of municipalities offering YHFS. The analysis using the WHO-ExpandNet framework identified five elements that enabled the scale up process: Clear policies and implementation guidelines on YFHS, clear attributes of the user organization and resource team, establishment and implementation of an inter-sectoral and interagency strategy, identification of and support to stakeholders and advocates of YFHS, and solid monitoring and evaluation. The elements that limited or slowed down the scale up effort were: Insufficient number of health personnel trained in youth health and SRH, a high turnover of health personnel, a decentralized health security system, inadequate supply of financial and human resources, and negative perceptions among community members about providing SRH information and services to young people.
Conclusion: Colombia’s experience shows that for large-scale implementation of youth health programmes, clear policies and implementation guidelines, support from institutional leaders and authorities who become champions of YFHS, continuous training of health personnel, and inclusion of users in the design and monitoring of these services are key.