Latin America is a region with one of the highest rates of underage pregnancy in the world, and Medellín, Colombia, is not immune to the trend. In 2020, 40 in every 1,000 teenage girls became pregnant in the city of 2.5 million.
Teenage pregnancy comes with higher health risks for the mother and child, severely impedes economic mobility and has well-documented social costs. A few years ago, Medellín’s data related to teenage pregnancy lived under the umbrella of the Health Department. Yet, teenage pregnancy is influenced by health, social, economic and cultural factors—data in a silo meant Medellín was missing the big picture.
In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Medellín leadership recognized that the City needed significant and rapid investment in data. Former Mayor Daniel Quintero created the Digital Innovation Secretariat in September 2020, which prioritized investing in data infrastructure and innovation, and set the stage for lasting culture change. At the same time, the City laid out its strategic priorities in a development plan that included a focus on health. A reduction in the pregnancy rate of adolescents 10 to 19 years old was chosen as a key health indicator.
From there, the solution happened in three stages:
- Modernizing data management. City leaders transformed how the government manages data. The process of creating a centralized repository of data started with knocking on department doors asking for Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoints and other files with stored data. It took “plenty of love and plenty of patience,” said team member Julio Cesar Mendoza. But the labor of love was worth it: Now the City has access to essential insights into every policy and program.
- Co-creating solutions. Next, leaders from various government departments and community organizations held sessions to determine the best metrics to track and strategies to try to prevent teen pregnancy, including disaggregating data by neighborhood, age, marital status, education level and more (such as whether the mother had subsequent pregnancies.) Based on the data, this group found that schools were the most effective place to focus pregnancy prevention efforts, and that educating and empowering school-aged children would be critical to reducing early motherhood.
- Engaging the Community. These findings sparked a comprehensive community engagement campaign. Most significantly this includes the “I Decide When” campaign, a strategy across 11 city departments that focuses on the social determinants of teenage pregnancy and uses data to dictate tactics. For instance, there is a chatbot for sex education. Additionally, the City held a contest for schools to come up with ideas to prevent teenage pregnancy. The winning school was in a neighborhood with a high rate of adolescent pregnancy.
Today, Medellín’s efforts to reduce teenage pregnancy continue. And with its strong data foundation, the City is committed to making headway on other policy priorities, such as reducing child malnutrition and expanding universal education. Learn more about how data is changing lives in Medellín.