A group of young girls sit side by side on long wooden benches at a maternal health center in Libreville, Gabon. They are all students, varying in age from 16 to 25. Some are pregnant and awaiting prenatal checkups; others are cradling their newborns.
The youngest, Ndossy, 16, is in her last year of high school. Her education, which was her only hope for a brighter future, has been interrupted by her pregnancy and her family life has descended into turmoil. “My mother is heartbroken, she won’t even speak to me,” she confesses.
When asked how she found herself in this predicament, she says, “I didn’t know how to keep track of my menstrual cycle, and I was afraid of getting an abortion.”
Ndossy had received almost no education about contraceptive methods other than condoms – which are often unavailable – and had never heard of Calculateur 28. The others in the waiting room also admitted to being unfamiliar with the tool.
Ginette Anvane, a midwife at the maternal health center, was surprised to learn that the girls were unaware of Calculateur 28. At the request of Antoine Ndzenghe Yengua, the regional minister for health in Libreville – the capital and largest city of the west central African state – the midwives had widely publicized the service during recent campaigns to promote maternal health.
The minister is an openly vocal advocate of its benefits. “It’s a very simple, easy to use tool that complements standard contraceptive methods,” he says.
Calculateur 28 was developed in 2009 by Paul Franck Indjendjet Gondjout. It provides women with “a tool for calculating their menstrual cycle so they can avoid unwanted pregnancies and don’t have to risk getting dangerous, clandestine abortions,” he says.
The tool is available in two forms: Cal28, a small adjustable paper calendar shaped like a ruler; and Log28, a text messaging service. Both tools work by the user identifying the date of their most recent period. The calendar then allows the user to easily identify the dates when they will be ovulating and the date of their next period. The text message service provides the same information, but in the form of a reply.
The service’s simplicity means it can be used by both men and women. As a result, it can be used by couples who want children but wish to keep a safe distance between pregnancies. First and foremost, Calculateur 28 can be considered a tool for family planning.
Séraphine Memine Me Zué, of UNESCO’s department for education in Libreville, calls Calculateur 28 “a fantastic educational tool for helping to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to plan pregnancies.”
She adds: “Since promoting the service, we’ve noticed a lot of positive interest from both men and women. The calendar and text message service can be used anywhere at any time, and provide constant and immediate access to information, allowing someone to make an informed decision about the chances of getting pregnant.”
For all of Africa
Calculateur 28 was first launched seven years ago in Senegal, where Gondjout was based at the time. The service was tested in Gabon in 2012, but with mixed results. However, in September 2014 the service enjoyed huge success in Cameroon and Rwanda. Consequently, Cameroon – in partnership with Newtech Afrik – made Calculateur 28 a free service as part of its national health-care program.
“Calculateur 28 is being managed by the ministries for education and health, and a toll-free number, 8198, allows you to get information about the service,” says Gondjout. Also, in partnership with the United Nations, a campaign to familiarize young people with the service has taken place in schools across Cameroon, in an attempt to universalize Calculateur 28’s use.
Calculateur 28 has also recently been introduced in Burkina Faso.
However, despite support from the World Health Organization, Gondjout admits that the introduction of Calculateur 28 in Gabon will be a slow process. “We’re going to continue campaigning for telephone service providers and the government to provide free access to the service, especially in rural areas,” he says. “We also hope our menstrual calendar will be distributed to everyone upon their enrolment in school.”
This article first appeared in Echos du Nord, Gabon.