Sierra Leone Facing Facts of Teenage Pregnancy

Published on IPS, by Mohamed Fofanah, April 3, 2011.

On Apr. 5, the United Nations Children’s Fund will launch a report on teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. Teenage pregnancies account for 40 percent of maternal deaths in the country, and the report comes as public health authorities recalibrate strategy to address a problem that endangers both mothers and children.

Seventy percent of teenage girls in Sierra Leone are married, according to a 2008 survey by the World Health Organization, in a country where early marriage is supported by traditional practice.

Poverty and stigma: … //  

… Stigma aggravates problems:

In a draft report for the World Health Organisation, Dr Helenlouise Taylor noted that few teens have ante-natal checkups, instead trying to hide their pregnancy or try to abort. This makes early detection of potential problems in a high-risk group very difficult.

For her research, directed towards developing strategies to reduce Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality rate, Taylor visited 14 districts of the country, observing conditions, interviewing health workers and using a questionnaire to collect information about patterns and trends of maternal care as well as training and equipment in health facilities.

In the draft report’s recommendations for teenage pregnancy, Taylor says measures to reduce coerced sex and unsafe abortion and increase access to contraception for adolescents are all important, and makes several important suggestions regarding information and reducing social stigma to encourage young mothers to make use of available health care.

She urges a review of life skills and biology in the school curriculum, as well as tighter links between schools and antenatal clinics – possibly even offering antenatal care at schools. She also calls for appropriate training for health personnel and teachers to help both groups communicate accurate and effective information on sex and birth control to teens.

Maud Droogleever Fortuyn, child protection director for UNICEF in Sierra Leone, told IPS that bringing about changes in behaviour and attitudes will take time. She said UNICEF has been supporting local NGOs conducting baseline surveys to improve understanding of the extent and nature of teenage pregnancy, developing modules to improve knowledge, as well as working with traditional authorities to develop effective bylaws that will support teen mothers, especially with completing school. END / (full text).

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