SOUTH AFRICA —The South African National Department of Health (NDoH) has highlighted the worrying trend of teenage pregnancies in all public health institutions.
It is estimated that adolescent females in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have around 21 million pregnancies each year.
Meanwhile, data from Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) revealed that 90,037 girls and young women aged 10 to 19 gave birth in the fiscal year 2021/2022.
South Africa’s Health Minister expressed grave concern over the rising number of teen pregnancies, especially during the holiday season.
On Christmas Day alone, more than 145 teenagers gave birth in public hospitals, with slightly over 1,700 babies born, demonstrating the severity of the problem.
Adolescent pregnancy, which occurs among adolescent females aged 10 to 19 years, is connected with a variety of public health concerns, including increased risks of maternal mortality, low birthweight, and other severe newborn complications.
They also have a negative impact on teenagers’ emotional, physical, and social well-being and are the top cause of death among adolescent girls worldwide.
Adolescent pregnancy is thus a major public health concern, and it has been identified as a critical goal in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
According to research from Ghana, South Africa, and Tanzania, the association between poverty and compelled sexual interactions with older men as a way for adolescents to pay for their basic financial needs is also contributing to teenage pregnancies.
Individual perceptions of sexual abstinence, early sexual debut, and negative opinions of contraception use among adolescents may also contribute to adolescent pregnancies.
Sexual coercion, inadequate or inaccurate contraceptive use, and low self-esteem have all been proposed as contributory reasons. Adolescents may also view contraceptive use as a privilege reserved for married couples, contributing to low contraceptive uptake and subsequent pregnancies.
Furthermore, some adolescents have a lack of awareness, misconceptions, and insufficient information about the variety and use of contraceptive techniques.
In response, the department is stepping up efforts to address the issue, with Foster Mohale, an NDoH representative, outlining current efforts to boost sexual and reproductive health awareness initiatives.
These initiatives are designed to educate young people about the risks associated with early sexual activity and unprotected sex. Also, they aim to increase awareness of the available family planning services.
To make these crucial services more accessible and appealing to youth, dedicated areas have been set up in public clinics, allowing young people to seek health services separately from the general waiting areas.
Staffed with young healthcare workers, these areas facilitate open communication about health challenges and needs, encouraging the youth to actively engage in their health discussions.
However, Lumka Oliphant of the Department of Social Development underlined that teenage pregnancies are a complicated, multi-layered issue, with factors ranging from rape, peer pressure, and a lack of information to socioeconomic issues.
As a result, he advocated that teenage pregnancies be addressed as a societal issue that requires a comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach and urged other sectors to ramp up awareness campaigns to empower young people to abstain, access family planning services to prevent unplanned pregnancies, and avoid sexually transmitted infection.
The South African National Christian Forum has pledged to help with attempts to reduce the high incidence of teen pregnancies, with the president asking for churches to have a role in teaching teenagers.