‘Abstinence programmes will not work’ – Dr. Ramsammy
As the Ministry of Health and other donor agencies are currently drafting an action plan to prevent adolescent pregnancy, Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has revealed that, in Guyana, it is estimated that approximately 5,000 unwanted pregnancies occur each year; and of that number, about 3,000 are aborted.
Additionally, about ten to fifteen deaths occur on an annual basis in the country due to pregnancy complications or complications related to giving birth.
During the consultation on teenage pregnancy at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel on Monday, Minister Ramsammy said that in Guyana three percent of the deliveries are among young adolescents below the age of 15.
However, according to him, this is encouraging news given the fact that between 1995 and 2003, it was averaged that there were about 400 deliveries for mothers under the age of 15 on an annual basis.
He explained that in 2007, this number decreased to 183. Meanwhile, since 2001, there have been 3,000 deliveries per year by mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 years of age.
“These may not seem like large numbers in the context of the global figures. Yet, approximately 25 percent of all pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean are among adolescents. And this is worse than some other regions of the world, such as in Africa and Asia,” Minister Ramsammy said.
He added that between three and five percent of babies delivered at hospitals or homes in Latin America and the Caribbean Region are born to adolescents below the age of 15.
“We know how to prevent pregnancy, we know what to do to reduce and prevent pregnancy among adolescents…We know what to do to make pregnancy and delivery of babies safe. Tools and medicine and equipment for these things are well known and available; and yet 75 million unwanted pregnancies occur each year and more than 500,000 women died last year because of pregnancy-related complications,” the Health Minister said.
Dr. Ramsammy also made the point that abstinence-only programmes will not work, and he challenged those who promote abstinence-only programmes to provide him one instance in which the programme has worked.
“For over 2,000 years, we have been promoting abstinence-only programmes; and it didn’t work 2,000 years ago, it didn’t work 1,000 years ago, it didn’t work ten years ago, and it didn’t work last year.”
However, he did stress the point that young people should wait. He noted that despite the message being promoted, adolescents are still having sex.
“For those who are in another world and believe that adolescents are not having sex, look around us… 70,000 deaths per year globally occur among adolescents. How do you think they get pregnant?” Dr. Ramsammy questioned.
He added that the action plan must be sensible and must provide the knowledge and the empowerment for young people to make informed and sensible choices, as he added that unless adolescents are presented with the options, abstinence programmes will continue to fail.
He also explained that unsafe abortions are the significant cause of deaths among pregnant women and adolescents, as more than 75,000 maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortion practices.
A fact he highlighted is that the adolescents of today live in a different period, and they live their lives differently, as there is now a reverse trend in the way things used to be.
In this context, it was explained, in the early days, there used to be firstly marriage, then first sexual experience, and then parenthood; but now, in the adolescent age, there is firstly sexual intercourse, then parenthood, and then marriage.
“Puberty comes earlier these days for adolescents…They live in a world with dangers lurking at every corner, such as HIV and other STI’s. This would only bring misery and agony, not only for the adolescents, but also their families.”
Meanwhile, Country Representative of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Kathleen Israel, assured that the plan is focused, relevant, comprehensive, and designed to address the cultural, economical, medical and psychosocial aspects which underpin adolescent pregnancy.
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