Leaders from Isiolo, health officials and administrators have called for collaborative efforts in dealing with rising teenage pregnancies, which account for 40 per cent of total pregnancies in the county.
Health department reports indicate that 18 per cent of teenagers in Isiolo are pregnant, a majority of them in primary and secondary schools.
Besides rape, defilement and early marriages, stakeholders attribute the surge to increasing numbers of girls aged between 10 and15 engaging in prostitution in Isiolo town and its outskirts due to poverty and drug influence.
Girls from poor families are at a high risk of being lured into having sex with young men in exchange for sanitary towels, which are hard to come by in schools and at home.
Health executive Wario Galma said teenage pregnancies hinder efforts to end HIV/Aids as a majority of the girls are at a high risk of being infected when they engage in unprotected sex.
Mr Galma, Woman Rep Rehema Jaldesa and Public Service Chief Officer Mustafa Kuntulo called for programmes to support the girls engaging in prostitution.
“We need to come up with empowerment programmes and help eradicate poverty, which makes them engage in prostitution due to lack of alternative decent livelihoods,” Ms Jaldesa said.
During World Aids Day celebrations at Isiolo Referral Hospital on Wednesday, Mr Galma said HIV and sexually transmitted infections will increase among teenagers if immediate interventions are not introduced.
The theme of the celebrations was “End Teenage Pregnancies: towards eliminating inequalities and new HIV infections”.
Isiolo County Commissioner Geoffrey Omoding warned of stern measures against men who make schoolgirls pregnant and put on notice parents who refuse to report such incidents to the authorities.
“If you make any girl pregnant, be ready to go to jail. We will not spare parents who fail to report the cases,” said Mr Omoding.
He said national government administrators will continue working with schools to find out the number of girls who are at home due to pregnancies and track down the men involved for legal action.
“Apart from dimming their education dreams, it puts them at a high risk of getting infected with HIV. We are committed to ensuring all pregnant girls go back to school to achieve the 100 per cent transition,” the administrator said.
Join Kazi Mtaani
Mr Omoding said the girls engaging in the illicit business will be considered for the Kazi Mtaani programme and asked them to visit his office to be assisted to apply for the work.
Ms Jaldesa asked parents to monitor their daughters’ movements and be mindful of the people they spend time with while at home and during holidays to ensure they are not lured into drugs and promiscuous behaviour.
“There is a need for collaboration among different partners to ensure the girls get sanitary towels on a regular basis so that their learning is not affected,” the legislator said while warning parents against condemning their daughters when they become pregnant.
Isiolo County’s HIV/Aids prevalence rate has reduced from 3.2 per cent in 2018 to 1.6 per cent in 2020, according to Mr Galma, who said infections among women are higher at 2.3 per cent compared with men at 1 per cent.
The mother-to-child transmission rate stands at 11.4 per cent.
An estimated 3,248 people in the county, among them 226 children, are living with the disease.
Young people account for 50 per cent of Kenya’s total HIV/Aids infections, according to National Aids Control Council Board chairperson Angeline Siparo.
“There is a need for a safe environment for young girls to thrive and the county to prioritise [dealing with] teenage pregnancies,” Ms Siparo said in a press release.
Seek postnatal care
While launching the Isiolo Aids implementation plan for 2021-2025, Mr Galma, the Health executive, appealed to expectant women to seek postnatal care, saying many only attended clinics when they were about to deliver, making it harder to protect unborn children.
He said HIV continues to contribute to high mortality rates in households and straining systems put in place by Governor Mohamed Kuti’s administration to deal with the disease.
“A lot needs to be done in mobilising resources and coming together as Isiolo communities to end HIV/Aids,” Mr Galma said, adding that the county is committed to working with other stakeholders in the fight.
Ms Jaldesa called for enhanced awareness on HIV/Aids to give residents the confidence to get tested and have a positive attitude if they find out they are infected.