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YAWODI invents new approach to mitigating teenage pregnancy as Lira registers over 1000 infant deaths

(Last Updated On: 19 February 2022)

Dr. Edmond Acheka presented graphical figures of mothers and babies lost in Lira district in the last financial year.


By Frank Oyugi

Lira – February 18, 2022: After two years of school closure as partial measures by the Museveni administration to contain the disastrous impact of the ravenous Covid- 19 pandemic, pupils and students were sent packing home and encouraged to embrace largely e-learning.

However, it would later become clear that unlike in a school setting, pupils and students would not sustain concentration on their learning while at home, and now just like any other part of the country, Lango sub-region is counting the cost of school closure, the immediate one –increased teenage pregnancies and early marriages as it became clear that majority of the teenagers were involved in active sexual activities during the lockdown.

In 2018, two years before Covid-19 struck, Lango sub-region had registered close to 19,000 teenage pregnancies, according to a report presented by the district health department of Lira district.

And now after the lockdown, 23,000 cases of young girls of school-going ages who have been impregnated were recorded as reported by Dr. Edmond Acheka, the assistant district health officer in charge of maternal and child health in Lira.

He was on February 10, 2022, presenting this report at stakeholders meeting convened to critically and strategically discuss how teenage pregnancy can be mitigated. 

Organized by Youth At Work Development Initiative (YAWODI), the meeting was attended by among others religious leaders, clan heads, teenagers, mothers, and officials from Lira district.

“Everyone is always talking about teenage pregnancy and we still see these figures rising, the biggest question is, ‘who is doing something about it?” 

Dr. Isaac Orech, the executive director of YAWODI, and a youth minister of Ocukuuro Ogora clan where the organization was founded challenged the house and said, “Time for action is now to save the future of the girl child.”

Dr. Orech is in charge of Amach health-sub district and doubles as the proprietor of Victoria school of nursing and midwifery. For years now, he has been championing the fight to reduce teenage pregnancy.

Statistics indicate doom

According to Dr. Edmon Aceka, Lango sub-region currently has an estimated population of 2.7 people, and of these, the total number of expected pregnancies is 128,861.

He explains that this is not surprising because Lango has one of the highest fertility rates standing at 6.2%, which is 0.8% higher than the national figure which stands at 5.4%.

Meanwhile, currently, the country loses 336 babies per every 100,000 live births, according to the ministry of health. On the other hand, the World Bank, two years ago ranked Uganda at the 9th position among 20 hot spot countries for child marriage.

Dr. Acheka further revealed that 46% of the marriages involve teenagers between 12-18 ages thus consequently resulting in teenage pregnancies, further adding that 6 out of 10 pregnancies are unplanned thus resulting in unwanted pregnancies.

As such, attempts to rid off the pregnancy out of fear of reprimand from school authorities and the community has seen a surge in abortion cases where available statistics by the ministry of health show that the country registers 80 abortions per day, and 25% of the cases involve teenagers.

What could be spiraling teenage pregnancy?   

As government and development agencies put up spirited and concerted efforts to scale down teenage p pregnancy and early child marriages, the figures keep skyrocketing and this has got many eyebrows itching as to what could be the disconnect.

Christine Anono is the community development officer (CDO) of Lira district local government and her docket is concerned with the welfare of women and girls.

In her submission, Anono explains that society has a huge role to play in shaping the future of young girls.

 According to the CDO, domestic violence, poor parenting, and lack of support from community leaders are some of the factors driving teenage pregnancy in Lango-sub region.

Among the key resolution from the meeting was that stakeholders should organize focused group meetings with students to offer guidance.

Anono has personally volunteered to visit nearby schools to encourage girls to stay in school and complete their studies. But, she believes that cultural leaders have a very critical role to execute in this.

“The cultural institution is very powerful and has the powers to cause meaningful change, for instance, if the youth are involved in drug abuse such as smoking weeds,   the clan leaders can summon them and hold them to account,” Anono remarked.

According to her, the gender-based violence ordinance which was passed by Lira district in 2013 if implemented would help to reduce teenage pregnancy. 

For instance, the ordinance prohibits owners of bars and pubs from admitting children below the age of 18, stressing that the ordinance is simple and easy to implement.

Teenage pregnancy, a precursor to maternal mortality.

If one is not part of the statistics, he or she may not attach meaning to it, but teenage pregnancy comes with lethal ramifications and contributes to the high percentage of maternal deaths.

Dr. Edmond Acheka presented graphical figures of mothers and babies lost in Lira district in the last financial year.

At least 43 mothers died while giving birth, 40% of them were teenage mothers, and 1,376 babies died. This is pathetic, according to Acheka who attributed it to teenage pregnancy and early child marriage.

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These statistics were presented during the meeting.

Much as some lives are lost during labor, teenage pregnancy and early child marriage mean a rapid population growth for the country, yet resources such as land are not expanding coupled with a high dependency syndrome.

“If I have five acres of land and I have ten children, how will I be able to divide this land among them,’’ Acheka wondered, adding that it is due to population pressure on natural resources such as land that Lango has seen a wave of crimes such as murders.

In 1969 Uganda had a population of 9.5m people, it shot to 12.6m in 1980. In 1991, it increased to 16.7m, 2002 Uganda’s population rose to 24.2m; in 2004 the country had 34.6m people.

It increased to 38m people in 2014 and it is projected that by 2040 when the country is yearning to become a middle-income status country, Uganda’s projected population will be 88.8m people.

Acheka explains that apart from land, the population is also exerting pressure on other sectors such as education and health, citing a scenario where drugs are delivered by the National Medical Stores to the district but after two weeks the district experience drug stock out.   

Contraceptives vs Culture

In Uganda, sexuality education and the use of contraceptives among adolescents remain a controversial topic, especially in a conservative cultural setting of Lango sub-region and this is coupled with some religious beliefs that further complicate the situation.

 The use of contraceptives is scientifically proven to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

According to biomedcentral.com, in Uganda, contraceptive nonuse is estimated at 40%. The northern region (55%) had the highest prevalence of contraceptive nonuse compared to the Central region (35%) with the lowest. 

Across regions, wealth index, number of living children, educational level, and children born in the last 5 years before the demographic survey differently predicted contraceptive nonuse. 

Conversely, age, religion, age at first marriage, sexual autonomy, age at first birth, desire for children, listening to the radio, and employment status were only predictors of contraceptive nonuse in particular regions amidst variations.

Residence, perception of distance to a health facility, watching television, and reading newspapers or magazines did not predict contraceptive nonuse.

However, Dr. Isaac Orech advises that parents should be open to discussion with their children on the use of contraceptives in a bid to protect the young girls from getting pregnant while they are at school and, urged both the church and the cultural institutions to support this cause.

During the engagement, a teenager Susan Akello (not her real name) raised a question on the safety of contraceptives as a measure to control unwanted pregnancies especially if it would not affect their fertility in the future.

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How teenage pregnancy stands across the Lango subregion.

‘To the young people out there, there is no need for you to use methods like injecta plan because you are not married and won’t have sex every day, but you can choose to use a condom, and as a parent, you should not feel angry when you find your daughter with a condom because it means she is decisive to protect herself,” Dr. Orech advised.

How cultural institution is shaping the new narrative

Whether girls who have gotten pregnant or given birth should go back to school is yet another controversial debate that is shaking tables and the pulpit is not spared.

It can be recalled that recently a clergy suggested that  Anglican founded schools would not admit girls who are either pregnant or are breastfeeding. 

But the president in his last address said he would have a conversation with the clergy over this but was also quick to add that the girl child should not be condemned and have her future ruined for the basic reason that she has given birth.

This is the same line that clan leaders who attended the meeting of YAWODI agreed and resolved that a girl should not but be married off at a tender age just because she is pregnant but rather be allowed to resume school.

“ I have been a victim, one of my sons impregnated a young lady who was in senior four, he came to me and told me, daddy, I have impregnated a girl: we approached the family of the girl,  paid some reparation but I agreed to take the girl back to school and now she is studying a medical course and soon finishing, we only asked the family to be fair to us in the near future when charging us on dowry,” a clan head who we shall not name for confidentiality narrated to stakeholders during the meeting.

YAWODI in a paradigm shift

Youth at Work Development Initiative is a civil society organization that was founded in 2016 and is registered with Lira city council authority, according to its executive director, Dr. Isaac Orech. 

He says this started as an initiative in the youth department of “Atekere” Ocukuru Ogora. 

Dr. Orech explains that as the youth of Ocukuru Ogora, they realized the need to initiate a project that would cause a meaningful impact on the lives of the young people who are grappling with many societal challenges among them teenage pregnancy.

He says that YAWODI will employ a multipronged approach to address challenges in the community, especially tree planting to avert climate change and its disastrous impact.

Just like any other young organization, YAWODI is still faced with numerous hardships and most notably financial constraints but thanks to Lango Community Trust UK.

The Trust is a collection of gallant sons and daughters of Lango in the United Kingdom (UK).

According to Dr. Orech, YAWODI benefitted from a humble grant of 400 Pounds and another support of 1000 Pounds which is currently being utilized to address the issue of early marriage and teenage pregnancy.

As part of plans that seek to foster human capital development, Dr. Orech explains that they will pilot a bursary scheme within the clan but in the subsequent years it shall be open to other clans in Lango.

“This bursary scheme will support children from vulnerable homes, we shall be transparent as possible and a board will be set up to screen suitable children who qualify for this scheme,” he said.

The deputy clan chief of Ocukuru Ogora clan commended Dr. Isaac Orech for the initiative and pledged that as a cultural institution they would also embrace the resolution for moving to schools to counsel young people in a bid to end teenage pregnancy.

 

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