Kampala, Uganda | Julius Businge | As Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Population Day on July 11, Marie Stopes Uganda, a health focused international organization working in Uganda urged the government and other actors to work towards having a healthy and productive population to achieve social economic transformation.
This year’s day commemoration came at a time when the country and the rest of the world governments were relaxing restrictions put in place earlier to combat the spread of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). Uganda had by press time, recorded a total of 1,029 coronavirus cases with 0 deaths.
Marie Stopes Uganda Country director, Carole Sekimpi, said that COVID-19 would interfere with population control measures and lead to a rise in population numbers. It could result into unplanned pregnancies given that movements of people to health centres to seek services is restricted.
She said that COVID-19 has seen an increase in teenage pregnancies among adolescent girls and young women as a result of limitation in access to family planning services and lack of information.
She quoted media reports that had confirmed that over 60 learners between the age of 14-15 years in the districts of Luuka and Kaliro were pregnant and likely not to go back to school.
The limited access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services, Sekimpi said, has worsened existing inequalities for women and girls, and deepened discrimination against other marginalised groups including adolescents and young people.
“Sexual and reproductive health services are a significant public health issue that demands urgent and sustained attention and investment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
According to Marie Stopes Uganda and government of Uganda data, there are about 360,000 teenage pregnancies (25%) that occur annually far from the Health Sector Development Plan (HSDP) target of 14% by 2020.
One in every four girls aged 15 -19 years is already a mother or pregnant with her first child.
Unmet need for family planning among adolescents aged 15-19 years is estimated at 30.4% with total demand of 52.3%.
Peter Ddungu, Marie Stopes director for grants said that population control and management requires a lot of commitment from policy makers/implementers and the general public.
“People must stand up in the community and resist certain behavior,” Ddungu said. He said that well thought out population control measures should among other areas target mothers to do the right child spacing, and have children/babies at the right age.
“If you are not yet 18 years, your body is not mature to handle pregnancies,” Ddungu said. Once the right procedures are followed, Ddungu said, the results would be having a healthy mother, baby and productive population.
In general, Sekimpi (the Marie Stopes Uganda Country Director) said, as Uganda records growth in population, the government and other key players must ensure there is sufficient investment in three core areas of health, education and labor – to be able to achieve a healthy and productive population.
She also added that girls and youth must be provided with sex education and related information as one measure of empowering them to avoid getting unplanned pregnancies and related diseases. This, she said, could be done through radio stations, community associations/groups and other platforms.
Service providers like Marie Stopes have continued to support women and health systems by delivering essential sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and healthcare services.
Officials believe that by ensuring availability of family planning /SRH services during this COVID-19 crisis is critical to preventing the long-term vulnerability of unplanned pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and other reproductive health challenges including gender-based violence.
Uganda has an estimated population of 45 million people, and has a growth rate of approx.3.3% per annum according to the United Nations Data.