OPINION: Teenage pregnancies are still on the rise. Are we doing enough to curb it?
By Stephen Ougo and Ritah Anindo
The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched health systems to their limits as most resources have been shifted to battle the pandemic.
Access to essential sexual and reproductive health services has taken a hit, with a decrease in contraception use, and increased unmet need leading to miscellaneous unintended pregnancies.
The magnitude of the problem extends to social, mental and economic well being of the pregnant girls as most them are not able to complete their education despite the existence of policies that support them to resume school after delivery.
Important to note is that complications relating to pregnancies and childbirth are the leading causes of deaths for girls age 15-19 (WHO), therefore this pandemic exposes teenage girls to even greater risk.
Their limited capacity to negotiate for safe sex, school closure, sexual violence and perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic might have been the leading causes of teenage pregnancy.
Urban informal settlements have mostly been affected by the surge of teenage pregnancies with teenagers being left at the mercy of quarks procuring unsafe abortions, while those who choose to keep the baby have limited access to essential healthcare.
Faith is a 13-year-old girl living in Mukuru slums: she is four months pregnant after a 23 year old man defiled her. She has since faced rejection from her parents and the man who impregnated her.
She expresses her dissatisfaction with the antenatal care she has been receiving from a nearby facility. Faith represents thousands or hundreds of girls across the country who are facing tough times in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic.
If the issue of teenage pregnancies is not addressed, then we might end up having more of them than COVID-19 cases. So how do we sustain gains made over the years as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic?
Stakeholders including parents, the government and NGOs should promote comprehensive sexuality education that will help learners make informed decision concerning the bodies and health.
There is also need for continuous advocacy to address policy barriers that limit enabling legal and socio-cultural environment for accessing sexual reproductive health services and information.
Finally, it is imperative to note that the root causes of teenage pregnancies are complex and there is need of comprehensive, multi-pronged and multi-sectoral approaches and integration of the approaches in COVID-19 response especially at the county level.
The writers are reproductive health advocates