Health Ministry raises alarm over high teenage pregnancies in Uganda

Kampala, (UG):- The Ministry of Health officials have expressed concern over the ever-increasing cases of teenage pregnancy and the high number of young mothers seeking antenatal services at various health centres in the country.

The Ministry’s Director-General of Health Services, Dr Henry Mwebesa while addressing journalists in a Monday breakfast meeting emphasized that teenagers between the ages of 10 to 19 years, constitute a significant portion of Uganda’s population, comprising approximately 35%, which translates to around 15 million Ugandans.

Shockingly, Dr Mwebesa says statistics from the latest Demographic Health Survey revealed that 24% of teenage girls in Uganda experience pregnancy, indicating a persistent challenge despite a marginal 1% reduction over the past five years.

The Health Ministry boss underscored the disproportionate impact of teenage pregnancy in rural areas compared to urban centres like Kampala. This, he attributed to higher levels of education and awareness among urban residents, which act as protective factors against early pregnancies.

Conversely, poverty, lack of access to education, and limited awareness about reproductive health contribute to the prevalence of teenage pregnancy in rural communities.

The dire consequences of early pregnancy were vividly portrayed by Dr Mwebesa, who mentioned the establishment of specialized wards for pregnant teenagers in some healthcare facilities. He lamented the prevalence of false information regarding teenagers’ ages, with many girls concealing their true ages out of fear or embarrassment, exacerbating the challenges of addressing this issue effectively.

Contributing factors to early pregnancies include poverty-driven early marriages, domestic violence, and limited access to contraceptives, according to Dr Mwebesa who also acknowledged the influence of religious beliefs, which hinder the provision of contraceptives to sexually active teenagers, thereby perpetuating the cycle of early pregnancies.

Ministry of Health Director General, Dr Henry Mwebesa (R) speaking to the media on Monday, February 26, 2024, as officials from the Adolescent & School Health Department look on (Photo/Handout)

Addressing the media at the same gathering, Dr. Richard Mugahi, the Commissioner of Reproductive and Child Health, emphasized the importance of investing in adolescent health and well-being.

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He highlighted the far-reaching benefits of such investments, including improved productivity, reduced dependency, and enhanced economic growth. Dr. Mugahi emphasized the need for concerted efforts from all stakeholders, including parents, schools, religious leaders, and community members, to combat teenage pregnancy effectively.

The health risks associated with early pregnancies were also discussed, with Dr Mwebesa highlighting the heightened risk of complications during childbirth among teenage mothers. These complications include hypertension, vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), and increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In response to these challenges, the Ministry of Health called upon religious leaders to actively engage in educating young people about the consequences of early pregnancies and the importance of staying in school. This plea was made in recognition of the pivotal role that religious leaders play in shaping societal norms and values.

Furthermore, the Ministry emphasized the need to prioritize adolescent health as part of Uganda’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensuring a healthy and thriving population.

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By addressing the root causes of teenage pregnancy and promoting access to education and reproductive health services, the Ministry aims to create a safer and more prosperous future for Uganda’s youth.

In conclusion, Monday’s engagement with the media served as a platform to shed light on the gravity of the teenage pregnancy crisis in Uganda and galvanize support for comprehensive interventions aimed at safeguarding the health and well-being of adolescents across the nation.

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