At 9 million, adolescents make up almost a quarter of Uganda’s population. There’s a hardship to live due to Poverty, HIV and AIDS, early marriages, teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence and low participation in secondary education which deter young people to fulfil their potential.
Adolescent girls, in particular, face multiple challenges like the severe and uneven risk of HIV infection – two-thirds of all new HIV infections are contracted by adolescent girls. Many girls also drop out of school as a result of unwanted teenage pregnancies and early marriages. According to the Ministry of Health, 25 percent of Ugandan teenagers become pregnant by the age of 19. Close to half are married before their 18th birthday and continue having babies into their mid-40s, this is a critical stage in the lives of adolescents: they require empowerment to skills, guidance and information about their bodily autonomy and changes.
With technology, they become explorative and may engage in unsafe sex, leading to HIV and STI infections plus unintended pregnancies. This further leads to complicated births and unsafe abortions, which often requiring emergency obstetric care. Uganda has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, with 18 mothers dying every day in pregnancy, during and after childbirth as many teenage mothers do not have access to adequate reproductive health care and many times die or get serious complications while giving birth.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), teenage girls aged 15–19 years are twice more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in their twenties, whereas those under the age of 15 years are five times more likely to die and this is increasing due to structural barriers that are either cultural or religiously perpetuated. The Ministry of Health needs to prioritize the implementation of policies, strategies, plans and programs that promote the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and youth, including training of public health providers in the provision of adolescent and youth-friendly services to ensure no adolescent has turned away from the hospital for seeking contraceptive services and information.
Stakeholders, especially the health and education ministries have a critical role in ensuring the facilitation of comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents in and out of school to equip them with knowledge and the capacity to make informed choices. And in this digital age, embracing new innovations like toll-free hotlines, social media and apps that address related issues is essential to ensure access to timely, factual and quality sexual and reproductive health information for adolescents and young people.
By Kasiita Mark Muganga, SRHR Advocate