Red flag over rising teenage maternal deaths

Psychologist Lydiah Maina says daughters of teen mothers are also likely to become child moms.

Teen pregnancy. The Ministry of Health has raised the red flag over a surge in maternal death among girls aged 10-19 years.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Health and Education ministries have come up with a guidebook to help adolescents understand pregnancy, HIV/Aids and gender-based violence, among other issues.
  • The sexual and reproductive health guide is designed to aid girls cope with emotional, social or physical challenges, among them pregnancy and HIV/Aids.

The Ministry of Health has raised the alarm over a surge in maternal deaths among girls aged 10-19 years.

Some 104 deaths were recorded in 2021, a huge increase from 31 in 2020, according to the ministry’s data on the Kenya Health Information System (KHIS).

At least one in every five pregnancies recorded in the country last year were among girls in the age bracket. This problem, coupled with other issues like teenage pregnancy, HIV/Aids, gender-based violence has seen Health and Education ministries come up with a guidebook to help adolescents understand more on these topics.

Guide

The sexual and reproductive health guide is titled ‘Understanding Adolescence: A guide for adolescents’.

It is designed to aid adolescents cope with emotional, social or physical challenges, among them pregnancy and HIV/Aids. It has a number of topics such as healthy relations, communication, mental health, sexual transmitted diseases, drug and substance abuse.

Dr Patrick Amoth, the acting director general for Health, said the guidebook will be available to all adolescents to help them make the right choices.

“As a parent of adolescents, the book makes my life easier as a reference document that I can share with my son and daughter and convey the correct information on various topics,” said Dr Amoth.

Acting Director of Medical Services Andrew Mulwa said at the launch of the guide at Kenya High School that the ministry is working on interventions to ensure the challenge is addressed gradually.

War on teen pregnancies

Dr Mulwa said the 2022 KHIS data shows progress in tackling teenage pregnancies compared to 2018/19, which recorded 30 per cent within the same age group.

A report released by the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) and the National Aids Control Council (NACC) last year showed nine counties contributed over half of the pregnancies recorded among girls in the 10-14 age bracket between January 2020 and September 2021.

The report, Adolescent Pregnancy in Kenya, indicated the nine counties collectively recorded 20,803 pregnancies among girls in that age bracket, comprising 56 per cent of the national tally. The counties were Nairobi, Kajiado, Homa Bay, Meru, Kericho, Narok, Kisii, Mandera and Bomet.

Nairobi, the report showed, also topped in the number of pregnancies among girls aged between 15-19, contributing 6.4 per cent of the national tally during the period under review.

It was followed by Kakamega, Narok, Meru, Bungoma and Nakuru counties. The report noted that 2018 recorded the highest number of teenage pregnancies at 427,135.

In July 2020, Sauti Sasa Youth Voice released a shocking report on teenage pregnancy. It showed more than 900 teenage girls’ were getting impregnated daily.

The rise in teenage pregnancy was attributed to the closure of schools and lockdown that was later imposed by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The report, which was an initiative by Amref Health Africa, further established that 13, 000 girls drop out of school annually because of pregnancies.

Complications

A 2019 statistics from the Global Childhood, Kenya has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate globally at 82 per 1,000 births.

Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading causes of death among girls aged 15–19 years globally, according to the World Health Organisation.

A 2017 Kenyan study into maternal deaths revealed that nine per cent of women who died in the hospital were teenagers.

Lack of access to sex education and reproductive health services has been identified as significant cause of the rise in teen pregnancy in Kenya.

In 2013, the government committed to scaling up sex education, beginning courses in primary school in a bid to tame the rising cases of teenage pregnancies.

But efforts to fulfil this promise have been met with fierce opposition from conservatives, among them religious groups and politicians.

Proven interventions like appropriate sexuality education have often been dismissed on the ground that they would encourage young people to indulge in sex.

Currently, courses on sex education focus largely on HIV prevention and abstinence, which means students’ knowledge of sexual and reproductive health is limited.



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