Caribbean countries, working together, could help roll back adolescent pregnancies through the exchange of knowledge, information-sharing and adopting good practices.
This notion was yesterday amplified by Deputy Chief Medical Officer [DCMO], Dr. Karen Gordon-Boyle.
Dr. Boyle made this disclosure at an opening ceremony of the four-day Adolescent Health Orientation Programme for doctors and nurses of Region Four [Demerara/Mahaica] which was held at Cara Lodge, Quamina Street, Georgetown.
“The social impact of unintended or early pregnancy is not limited to the frightened teen but affects the parents, the trajectory for the child, and society as a whole,” Dr. Boyle noted.
Boyle’s regional call is echoed in a five-year regional strategic framework document to reduce adolescent pregnancy by at least 20 percent between 2015 and 2019.
The document was unveiled in 2015 in St Lucia.
The regional blueprint Boyle referred to rests on five key pillars: ensuring access by all adolescents to responsive sexual and reproductive health services, information and commodities including contraception and emergency-contraception; guaranteeing that all adolescents have access to age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education [by the age of 10] as included in national school curricula implemented in all schools, and through informal education modalities for those adolescents not in school, and urging all Regional governments to implement social protection programmes to prevent “all forms of violence against adolescent girls and boys, especially the poorest and most marginalized.”
Under the plan too, all governments in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean countries will be encouraged to adopt common legal standards about “ages of marriage, consent, prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence and access to social protection and sexual and reproductive health services.”
The final plank of the plan, which attracted Boyle’s attention yesterday, advocates for governments in the English-, French- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean must “exchange knowledge, information and adopt good practices in addressing social determinants of adolescent pregnancy.”
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Boyle said, referring to her pitch for the Caribbean to make use of the South-South framework.
The Public Health Ministry’s DCMO said the vulnerabilities of adolescent pregnancy affect the global female population, where 20 percent of the girls “have given birth by age 18” with the figures spiking among the world’s poorest regions. In these areas, Boyle said the global figure is “one in three” or 33 percent.
Citing World Health Organisation figures of 2012, the DCMO said “95 percent of adolescent births take place in low to middle income countries and within these countries the poor and less educated are even more vulnerable to unplanned teenage pregnancies”.
The adolescent pregnancy rate in Guyana hover between 20 and 22 percent, Boyle said.
She said that the babies born as a result of teen pregnancy among girls living in poor countries are 50 percent more likely to be born dead than those born to women between the ages of 20 and 29.
Other obstacles adolescent mothers and their babies face, according to Dr. Boyle, include low birth weight for the newborn; increased risk for complications such as Cephalopelvic disproportion [CPD] [when a baby’s head or body is too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis]; pre-term labour; eclampsia [a condition marked by convulsions and possibly coma during or immediately after pregnancy] and intrauterine growth restriction [IUGR], a condition in which an unborn baby is smaller than it should be, because it is not growing at a normal rate inside the womb.
“Pregnant adolescents are also more likely to have unsafe abortions which can contribute to long-lasting health problems and maternal deaths,” Dr. Boyle warned even as she asserted that continued learning is among the keys to stopping adolescent pregnancies.
“Education is a major protective factor for early pregnancy – the more education a girl has, the fewer pregnancies [are] recorded,” Dr. Boyle added.
Poverty and lack of education are common root causes of teen pregnancies which demand a social contract from governments, the civil society and the religious institutions. As such Dr. Boyle urged, “please let us join forces to build a better tomorrow for the children of today.”
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