Teen pregnancy impacting on infant and maternal mortality rates

Karen de Kock, MPL

DA Northern Cape – Provincial Spokesperson of Health

The Democratic Alliance is concerned about the knock-on health effects of teenage pregnancies on young mothers and their babies in the province, and will be submitting parliamentary questions to the departments of health, social development and education in respect of teen pregnancy stats, health related challenges and cross-cutting departmental interventions.

During the recent budget presentation by the provincial health department, it came to light that high maternal mortality rates, especially in the John Taole Gaetswe district, were largely due to young pregnant mothers not going to clinics in the early stages of pregnancy. This is extremely worrying, as the younger the girl is when she becomes pregnant, the greater the health risks for her and her child.

The relationship between the age of the mother at birth and child mortality has been well researched. Statistics indicate that girls who give birth before the age of 15, are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. In fact, mortality deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are an important cause of mortality for girls aged 15-19. Furthermore, if a mother is under the age of 18, her infant’s risk of dying in its first year of life is 60% greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19.

Given the above, the DA wants to establish why young girls in the Northern Cape are not seeking medical attention at clinics. We know that shortages of doctors and nurses, especially in rural areas, are a significant cause of people not attaining the medical attention they need. However, it could also be that the stigma attached to teen pregnancies stops young girls from visiting clinics and acquiring contraception, delays them from accessing antenatal care, and even drives them to resorting to illegal means for termination of pregnancy, all for fear of being judged by health staff. In this respect, we also want to ascertain whether the province’s youth service centres provide special counselling and programmes for teenage mothers. At the same time, it is important to establish the status of guidance counseling in schools, with respect to sexual health, as well as the effectiveness of the school life orientation programme in addressing sexual health issues, other than just HIV & AIDS.

The DA considers teen pregnancies to be a significant problem that requires urgent intervention from all stakeholders, not just in decreasing the rate of teen pregnancy in the province but also in ensuring that there are adequate programmes in place to address the health and safety of pregnant adolescents.

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