KAMPALA – Ms. Kisakye Racheal is a peer mother from Namuwongo where she says there is a high rate of teenage pregnancy. She says she got pregnant in 2021 while staying with her cousin brother “who gave me a lot of freedom which I think it wasn’t good.”
Kisakye who feared revealing to neither her brother nor her mom had wanted to procure an abortion but would later call Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre where she was advised to keep her pregnancy.
“I later went to stay with my mom but again I had to run away from her because I couldn’t tell her. After going through a lot, I decided to reveal to her my situation and she asked to come back home,” she narrates.
She notes that even after giving birth, she feared appearing to the community until she got counselling from Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre where she became a peer mother.
“Now, next year, I intend to go back to school to achieve my dream of becoming a journalist. I hope that fellow young people can learn something from my story.”
Kisakye is one of the thousands of adolescents and young mothers who go through hardships in Uganda after conceiving.
As of 2021, the country recorded 31,565 pregnancies every month which translates into 1,052 pregnancies recorded daily up from 29,835 cases recorded in 2019 and 29,557 in 2020 and a daily rate of 994 and 985 respectively according to the District Health Information System-2 (DHIS-2).
This is why the ministry of health and its partners initiated the Annual Adolescents and Young People’s Safe Motherhood Conferences to set and follow up on actions but also forge a way forward of aiding these young people.
Speaking at the 2nd Annual Conference held at Speke Resort Munyonyo on Monday, Dr. Blandina Nakiganda from the ministry of health noted that from the first conference, they agreed among other actions to; advocate for the increased financing to support the construction of adolescent and youth responsive but also to equip the health facilities sufficient commodities including knowledge and information for young people – not forgetting health commodities and contraceptives.
“We also agreed on training health workers to ensure that they are able to reach out to the young people and are responsive to their needs, but also to have avenues for young pregnant people to ensure they have safe delivery.”
In the 2nd conference, stakeholders working on adolescent and health issues intended at identifying strategies that will help to improve the access and delivery of adolescent-responsive Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services.
Under the theme, ‘Strengthening Delivery of Adolescent Responsive Health Services’, the players sought to mobilize and amplify the voices of the young people but also to provide the platform of the young people and the stakeholders to share their experiences.
Dr. Rodgers Ampwera, the Executive Director of Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre noted that the conference is timely because many young people are still finding barriers in exercising their sexual reproductive health, maternal and child health rights majorly due to lack of access to quality and non-judgmental responsive Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) services.
“Adolescents constitute a large proportion of pregnant women Adolescent pregnancy carries significant health risks for the mother and the child, contributing to high maternal, neonatal and child mortality. Therefore, this pre-youth conference will allow the Ministry of Health and stakeholders to reflect on delivering adolescent responsive health services.”
According to him, over a couple of years, there has been an increase in teenage pregnancies which calls for bringing young people together and amplifying their voices and making them central in the discussions regarding their health.
“We want to make sure we bring on the table other stakeholders like the religious and cultural leaders into a wider discussion on how we can offer services but also make sure that young people are central in service accessibility.”
Dr. Ampwera says that the problem is caused by a number of challenges but doubles when these young girls are not at school and with the absence of parents to guide them.
“We see around 60 young people per day on average in the 33 health corners that we have; like over 40,000 young people per day in all our health facilities. 65% of those are females, however, we also see that around 25% of those females who come and test positive for pregnancy, around 75% are from the community, those in schools are fewer. So it means that when children are in school, they don’t get pregnant,” he said.
Officiating at the event, Minister of State for Health – General Duties Anifa Kawooya Bangirana revealed that 60% of mothers in Uganda’s antenatal facilities are teenagers, some of whom not knowing the responsible men.
In fighting the related challenges, she said that as the government invests in health facilities for better services, young people should invest in themselves.
“As youths, as adolescents, we must invest in our lives, in our own hopes.”
“Covid-19 slowed down the economies globally, we must find what to do Post-covid as a young generation,” she added.
Kawooya urged young people to be positive-minded in order to keep focused on what they want to achieve in the future.
“Dreamers are achievers, don’t take your dream for granted, aim high!”
Dr. John Paul Bagala from National Safe-Motherhood Expert Committee (NASMEC) said that the country must prepare to respond to any demand to care that may arise.
He revealed that they have set actions looking at six-building blocks of the healthcare system including; on health services delivery to ensure that the frontline health workers have the guidelines and protocols to that support their delivery of care, but also took a targeted approach to address the leading killers.
According to Dr. Bagala, majority of adolescents who conceive normally die of Postpartum hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia, and or sepsis, but also from the obstructed labor.
“So, we launched the essential maternal and new born clinical guidelines in May 2022 and this is to enable service delivery of care but also we’ve gone ahead to develop targeted intervention frameworks on Postpartum hemorrhage, on pre-eclampsia and others. We’ve set up national intervention frameworks to ensure that in case we have our young people get too worse, they don’t lose their lives because of these.”
Dr. Olive Sentumbwe from World Health Organisation – WHO called for advocacy for Abstinence from sex, being faithful and using condoms in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies among adolescents.
“Although everyone is blaming Covid-19 for pregnancies, it was just an eye-opener to show us what we need to address.”
She added that “Besides pregnancy, we need to continue to think about HIV, STIs, infertility, and abortion because these things are related and we hope that as young people if we are affected in one way or another, we also affect the advancement of our own social economic growth. It is important therefore for us to recognize the multi-sectoral nature of the adolescent health response which we need to mount.”
Anne Alan Sizomu, Programme Specialist-Adolescent and Youth SRH at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) noted that “We need to have zero tolerance when it comes to teenage pregnancies, many dreams are lost due to this situation.”
Joshua Thembo, Behavioral Change Communication Officer at Naguru Teenage Centre stressed the urgent need to improve the capacity of health workers at all cadres in terms of diagnosis and management of mothers to ensure Safe Motherhood.
“Strengthening health workforce capacity through regular mentorships coupled with proper ethical and moral conduct during practice, equitable distribution of health workers at all levels of care as well as establishing key retention and motivation strategies will move Uganda to last-mile efforts towards achieving its national and Global targets,” he noted.