By Kakaire Ayub Kirunda, MakSPH
When the Future Health Systems team at the Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) approached Uganda’s Ministry of Health, with an idea of a symposium as part of the activities to commemorate the safe motherhood month held every year in October, it was not clear what to expect.
But bingo, the idea was taken on board, seeing the United Nations Population Fund, the World Health Organisation, and Marie Stopes Uganda become co sponsors with MakSPH for the event now being planned to be held annually.
Organised under the theme “Teenage Pregnancy: An Obstacle to Maternal Health, Let’s Stop It Now,” the 2013 inaugural symposium held on November 5 drew the attention of teenage mothers, the academia, policy makers, religious and cultural leaders, legal practitioners, and the media among other stakeholders.
In a speech read for him at the symposium, Uganda’s State Minister for Health Dr Elioda Tumwesigye said there was urgent need for investment in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in order to address the underlying factors that give rise to the high rate of teenage pregnancies.
“Although some of the laws and policies in Uganda address this issue of teenage pregnancy some of our laws still have loop holes which promote teenage pregnancy,” said Dr Tumwesigye. “Similarly although the Uganda Ministry of health supports the provision of adolescent friendly services, its provision has been met with some challenges.”
Teenage pregnancy in Uganda is compounded by adolescent girls’ vulnerability to early and sometimes forced marriage, with the country having one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world.
According to the latest Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, among women age 20-49, 15 percent were married by age 15, and 49 percent were married by age 18.
The UNFPA Country Representative for Uganda Ms Cecile Compaore applauded efforts by the symposium organizing partners for efforts aimed at discussing how to strengthen efforts to fight teenage pregnancy using a multi-sectoral approach, saying breaking the cycle of teenage pregnancy required action from all sectors working together and not just the health sector.
She added that the more harmonised the efforts, the better the service delivered to the girls and women of Uganda and interventions help the most vulnerable, especially girls between 10 and 18, who need support that builds their potential and protects their rights.
Also speaking at the symposium, MakSPH Deputy Dean Prof. Christopher Garimoi Orach urged stakeholders to follow up on the recommendations and commitments made by the various stakeholders in relation to mitigating teenage pregnancy in the country.
“We have to put our hands together and this calls for us meeting frequently,” he urged the participants.
The various stakeholders who attended the symposium made recommendations and commitments to be followed up over the following year.
From the religious and cultural leaders, among the many recommendations made was one on the need for networking with other stakeholders especially researchers on the need to come up with practical ways of tackling the spiraling problem of teenage pregnancy.
The legal and ethical issues stakeholders comprising mainly of lawyers pledged to spearhead a campaign on awareness especially on laws relating to children.
Among other things, the academia called for studies to look into the cost effectiveness of the current interventions that are aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy. They also called for studying the best model for parent to child communication to prevent teen pregnancies.
Young people, specifically teenage mothers who attended at the symposium asked Government to inject funds in programs to train personnel to impart positive skills like self-esteem and confidence among girls to say “NO”.
Meanwhile the symposium featured an exhibition of photographs from an FHS funded study at MakSPH that looked at the use of photo voice to involve the youth in identifying maternal health issues in the community and in identifying opportunities to engage in their improvement.
According to the study’s principle investigator Mr. David Musoke, “A lot of interest was shown particularly in the research methodology of using photos, some thinking of incorporating it into their work. The booklet was also very handy as many participants took with them copies.”