Teenage pregnancy is on the rise in Uganda? Quick, someone call the cops

Thursday September 13 2018

Teenage pregnancy

Two Ugandan women ministers are fighting over teenage mothers getting or not getting antenatal care. One has urged police to arrest any health workers who provide antenatal care to expectant underage mothers instead of calling in the cops. The other minister says this would drive pregnant teenagers away from antenatal centres for fear of being arrested. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

By JOACHIM BUWEMBO
More by this Author

In a few weeks, the world of health will be converging on Astana, Kazakhstan for the Global Conference on Primary Health Care to take stock of the gains made in the delivery of primary healthcare over the past 40 years.

In 1978, experts and world leaders had met in Almaty, Kazakhstan and pledged to guarantee universal access to primary health care.

In many ways, a lot has been achieved. In countries like Uganda, we have achieved more than 100 per cent of the targets for many immunisation campaigns, as kids turn up for the jabs from across our borders.

But there are other areas where the performance is not only poor but the policies are so muddled that they verge on anarchy.

Take maternal health, for example. Right now we have two ministers fighting over teenage mothers getting or not getting antenatal care.

One minister responsible for youth caused a stir when she urged police to arrest any health workers who provide antenatal care to expectant underage mothers instead of calling in the cops. The other minister responsible for health hit the roof, saying this would drive pregnant teenagers away from antenatal centres for fear of being arrested.

The initial minister “clarified” that bringing in the police would help apprehend the men responsible for making the girls pregnant. And so on and so forth.

Is this really the same Uganda that was once upon a time praised for being open about HIV while the other countries were taking a puritanical stand that demonised whoever became infected?

Is this the same Uganda whose police is known for its iron-fisted handling of political dissent that now someone wants to involve in disrupting maternal health service delivery?

And talking of antenatal health, is this the same Uganda where one Dr Annette Nakimuli a couple of years ago made a giant leap for mankind by identifying the gene that predisposes black women to pre-eclampsia (onset of high blood pressure during pregnancy), a major killer of pregnant women worldwide?

It is indeed quite likely that majority of our seventy-strong Cabinet have never heard of Dr Nakimuli, though she actually conducted her groundbreaking research in Kampala. And around the same time her breathtaking findings were being released at a scientific conference in Kampala, a young female member of parliament died from pre-eclampsia.

Did our 400-plus MPs launch a pre-eclampsia awareness campaign in honour of their fallen colleague to save the several thousand Ugandan girls who will die from this problem in a few years?

No, what they did was to launch partisan campaigns for the seat that pre-eclampsia made vacant. Such is the seriousness with which maternal health is regarded in Uganda.

It is not the first time we have had two women ministers opposing each other in public. The last time we had a minister calling her colleague a prostitute, and the public ignored their quarrel because it was beneath the dignity of most Ugandans to join such trash talk.

But the current disagreement between the ministers is over policy, so hopefully more views will come up.

Who knows, some of us may even support the police involvement, on the grounds that it will scare teenagers into using contraceptives.

Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala.

Advertisement