Preventing Early Pregnancy and Poor Sexual Reproductive Health Outcomes.

Every year, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15 to 19 years and 2 million girls aged under 15 years become pregnant in developing regions. Approximately 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 years and 2.5 million girls under age 16 years give birth in developing regions.[i] Early pregnancy and poor reproductive health outcomes are not only linked but also extremely prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. The consequences of which are detrimental to girls’ physical and mental health and eventually their social and economic outcomes. Hence keeping girls from reaching their full potential and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Many women in the developed world have the decision making power over their sexuality; pregnancy and child birth is often planned and wanted. In contrast, in Sub-Saharan Africa millions of girls do not have the power to make their own decisions about when and who to have sex with and becoming pregnant (WHO 2012)[ii]. Girls’ decision making power is limited by lack of education, access to user friendly sexual and reproductive health care, social behaviours, cultural norms and survival pressures.

Governments and the development partners all over Africa have made commitments to protect women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Putting in place policies and programmes for sexual reproductive health education, youth friendly healthcare services, supporting girl’s education, as well as, Social protection programmes or cash transfers in an effort to curb the increasing rates of early and unintended pregnancy. However, despite the many efforts of government, civil society and the international development partners, recent data has shown that teenage pregnancy has not decreased over time; rates have stabilized or increased (WHO 2018).[iii]  This is because the global population of adolescents continues to grow, projections indicate the number of adolescent pregnancies will increase globally by 2030, with the greatest proportional increases in West and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa  (UNFPA 2013)[iv].

Early and unintended pregnancy is a complex issue driven by multiple factors and linked to many interdependent variables. Therefore, an effective response to preventing early and unintended pregnancies will need to be layered considering socio demographics, psychosocial and financial welfare, mental wellbeing and family and community cognitive behaviours.

No organisation can provide a single solution that will address the complex issues of early and unintended pregnancy and poor reproductive health habits. In light of this, there is an urgent need to pull together our efforts, resources, reach and networks and use our comparative advantage to address the gaps in the response to preventing early and unintended pregnancies and poor reproductive health outcomes.

The 2019 PSS forum will focus on creating/ inspiring and catalysing connections to promote resilient communities and environment where youth seek out healthy and safer sexual practices. Empowering girls to make informed decisions.

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[iii] UNESCO Launches the Early and Unintended Pregnancy Campaign

[iv] UNFPA. Adolescent pregnancy: A review of the evidence. New York: UNFPA, 2013.

By Angelita Silva