The Ministry of Health has called for more efforts in ensuring that female adolescents stay in school as a way of safeguarding them from the risks associated with teenage pregnancy.
Adolescents make up 34.8% of Uganda’s total population. But statistics provided by Ministry of Health indicate that 25 percent of the adolescent girls and young women aged between 15 and 19 are pregnant or already mothers.
Furthermore, figures show that at least one in 10 girls is married off before they are 15-years-old.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines an adolescent as any person between ages 10 and 19.
Government through the Ministry of Health is calling for stronger commitment by all stakeholders to make interventions that will reduce these worrying figures.
Dr Placid Mihayo, the Senior Consultant on Obstetric Gynaecology at the Ministry of Healrh said at a media breakfast meeting on Monday that the trend of young (below 18) mothers poses serious dangers on both the lives of the girls and the babies.
“25% of girls under the age of 19 in Uganda have given birth. This is the highest in the region, compared to countries like Kenya and Rwanda. And in some regions of Uganda, this percentage is as high as 30%,” Dr Mihayo told reporters.
“There are numerous dangers associated to a girl giving birth while they are below 18. There are high chances of giving birth to a baby that is below 2.5 kgs, a risk of high blood pressure, and since this girl’s pelvic bones are weak, she could fail to push and end up killing the baby,” he said.
He also cited the likelihood of such a girl suffering from Fistula (an abnormal or surgically made passage between a hollow or tubular organ and the body surface, or between two hollow or tubular organs which often leads to involuntary discharges).
“Our appeal is for children, especially girls to stay in school as well as an end to child marriages. They should also abstain from sexual activity,” he said.
In an effort to reduce the problem of young mothers, Dr Mihayo said, the Ministry of Health has put in place policy guidelines and service standards with a strategy for provision of adolescent health services.
Health workers have been trained on the importance of delivering adolescent friendly services.
Dr Mihayo revealed that government has immunized 68% of girls below 10 years from HPV (human papillomavirus) to protect them from contracting cancer of the cervix.
Like some of the other countries in Africa, such as South Sudan, the problem of teenage pregnancy in Uganda is partly a making of cultural practices. Some traditions still perceive young girls as a source of quick wealth (in form of dowry) which often leads parents to rush them for marriage instead of education.
While NGOs and development partners have invested resources in campaigns to advocate for girls to keep in school, their efforts can be as productive as the willingness of parents to join the cause.