By Kaviri Ali
Recently, the second Global Maternal Health Conference was held in Arusha Tanzania from 15th to 17th January 2013 and brought together approximately 700 scientists, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to explore technical issues relating to improving the quality of maternal health care globally. The forum provided an opportunity for health professionals from around the world to share knowledge and build on progress toward eradicating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity with a focus on improving quality of care.
As a youth participant from Uganda, Seeing these eminent delegates from all walks of life connecting for a noble cause was an inspiration in itself and I was happy that I am making a contribution. With overpowering passion to improving the status of women and girls, I did not hesitate when the Maternal Health Task Force at the Harvard School of Public Health, USA offered me a scholarship to attend the event. Prior to the conference, I had analyzed maternal health policies in Uganda under the Young Leaders Think Tank for policy alternatives a project under Konrad Adenour Stiftung that brings together 20 committed young Ugandans to interact and work in collaboration by analyzing policy issues and develop policy alternatives from the perspective of the young generation.
Following our analysis of health reports and policies, we found out that the maternal section was quite frightening. Uganda’s population growth rate is at 3.2 % with a fertility rate of 7.1 children for every woman in reproductive age. Current figures estimate the population at 33m and projected to rise to 104 million people by 2050.Thus, in 40 years, the health system will have to cater for an additional 70m people. The youth in Uganda account for 78% of the total population and 37% are female youth according to the world population report 2010. It’s predictable that 20% of young women aged 20-24 in Uganda begin to engage in sex as early as 12 years. 10% of young men have had sexual intercourse at least by age of 15 and by 18, 64% of young women and 50% young men become sexually experienced. Engaging in sexual activities at this stage is very risky as it exposes adolescents to early pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual violence. Many young girls thus resort to clued methods to get rid of unwanted pregnancies and as such the high prevalence of illegal abortions end up in deaths an act also considered immoral in society. It is worth mentioning that most young people cannot protect themselves because they lack information on where to go for adolescent sexual reproductive health care, and the majority are not empowered enough to negotiate for safe sex with their partners.
With these shocking findings in mind, I used the forum to call upon world leaders to invest heavily in adolescent sexual reproductive health. Taking a look at the Uganda national budget, adolescent reproductive health is majorly funded by donors. Adolescent reproductive health should be fully integrated into the government sectors of education, and justice because it is a cross cutting issue. It is also vital to involve the young people in providing information to break the silence about sexual coercion and violence, stepping up the fight against female genital mutilation and preventing early pregnancy. There is also need for further research with regard to young people specific health needs. Additionally, adolescents should be fully consulted in all efforts geared towards Collecting and documenting baseline information with regard to Uganda’s position in providing health services with a particular focus on youth friendly services. It is only when the productive health of young girls is prioritized that we will begin to see transformation in the lives of the young women in this country.
Ali is a founding member of the Young Leaders Think Tank for policy alternatives