We should be bold about teenage pregnancy!
Enroute to Kamwenge for a friend’s marriage, my mind wonders to the adolescent girls now mothers cited by a recent Civil Society report. That report raised issues of increasing teenage pregnancy in the area due to influx of the road construction workers. The World Bank gave Uganda an ultimatum to resolve the issues or else stop funding for the road project. I think to myself; Bravo World Bank! At least somebody took a bold stand in addressing teenage pregnancy. Yes the cancellation of the funding to the road project doesn’t address teenage pregnancy directly; but it’s a bold statement that every girl should be protected and that we have to take a bold stand to end teenage pregnancy.
Adolescent pregnancy and motherhood poses a challenge to improving both maternal and newborn health in Uganda. According to the WHO repository 2015 data for Uganda, 33% of women 20-24 years had given birth before 18 years between 2008 and 2013. Simply put, for every ten adolescent girls you meet, three have given birth or are pregnant with their first child. According to the UDHS2011, adolescent pregnancies are more likely to occur among the rural and uneducated girls. This is indeed a sad situation for the country!
Because of their young age, maternal deaths are the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls. And unlike their male counterparts, the incidence of new HIV infections is also higher among the girls. The repercussions of teenage pregnancy also transcend to their babies. The risks of neonatal deaths in this population are 50% higher compared to those in older women. Incidences of preterm deliveries and low birth weight babies are also high. This already ugly situation is compounded by the fact that often times; the girl has to drop out of school and might never even re-join the education system. This rids her of a lifetime of opportunities that could have fundamentally improved her life. Indeed adolescent pregnancy and child bearing spells a spiral of unfortunate events in the young girls’ lives!
All is not without hope. Yes! Adolescence is a stage of transition, risk taking and experimentation but it is also a critical stage where we have to instill the greatest values, life skills and negotiation skills in our children; taking it a day at a time.
It is also a critical time to keep our girls in school. Education has been documented to have a protective element against teenage pregnancy and marriage. However it is important to make schools girl friendly and safe especially in rural communities where issues of school drop outs due to menstruation or teacher induced pregnancy are frequently heard of. We should also look into how to increase access and utilization of contraceptives among sexually active adolescents. Age is not a contraindication for most reversible contraceptive methods. We need to take a bold stand to advocate for increased access to contraceptives and intensify messages of safe sex to the adolescent population. However, issues of contraceptives in areas of high HIV incidence and prevalence should also be dealt with cautiously as only one method provides dual protection against HIV and pregnancy.
Blog by Ms Lydia Kabwijamu, a research associate with the MNHR Centre