Journal Article

Cluster randomized evaluation of Adolescent Girls Empowerment Programme (AGEP): Study protocol

Background
Adolescents in less developed countries such as Zambia often face multi-faceted challenges for achieving successful transitions through adolescence to early adulthood. The literature has noted the need to introduce interventions during this period, particularly for adolescent girls, with the perspective that such investments have significant economic, social and health returns to society. The Adolescent Girls Empowerment Programme (AGEP) was an intervention designed as a catalyst for change for adolescent girls through themselves, to their family and community.

Methods/design
AGEP was a multi-sectoral intervention targeting over 10,000 vulnerable adolescent girls ages 10–19 in rural and urban areas, in four of the ten provinces of Zambia. At the core of AGEP were mentor-led, weekly girls’ group meetings of 20 to 30 adolescent girls participating over two years. Three curricula―sexual and reproductive health and lifeskills, financial literacy, and nutrition―guided the meetings. An engaging and participatory pedagogical approach was used. Two additional program components, a health voucher and a bank account, were offered to some girls to provide direct mechanisms to improve access to health and financial services. Embedded within AGEP was a rigorous multi-arm randomised cluster trial with randomization to different combinations of programme arms. The study was powered to assess the impact across a set of key longer-term outcomes, including early marriage and first birth, contraceptive use, educational attainment and acquisition of HIV and HSV-2. Baseline behavioural surveys and biological specimen collection were initiated in 2013. Impact was evaluated immediately after the program ended in 2015 and will be evaluated again after two additional years of follow-up in 2017. The primary analysis is intent-to-treat. Qualitative data are being collected in 2013, 2015 and 2017 to inform the programme implementation and the quantitative findings. An economic evaluation will evaluate the incremental cost-effectiveness of each component of the intervention.

Discussion
The AGEP program and embedded evaluation will provide detailed information regarding interventions for adolescent girls in developing country settings. It will provide a rich information and data source on adolescent girls and its related findings will inform policy-makers, health professionals, donors and other stakeholders.