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In April, the United Nations Population Fund warned that lockdown-related disruptions could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries without modern contraceptives, resulting in 7 million additional unintended pregnancies globally.
In July, it was reported that in the previous three months of Covid-19 lockdown, 152,000 teenage Kenyan girls became pregnant – a 40% increase in the country’s monthly average.
It stands to reason: schools and colleges are closed, workplaces are shut, social gatherings are banned. If you place a population under quarantine, many of them living in close-proximity and facing extreme economic hardship, an unintended baby boom is inevitable.
The World Health Organisation reports that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls and women globally. Ninety-nine percent of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
In addition, teenagers who give birth often face higher rates of poverty and domestic violence in later life due to misogynistic cultural norms and very few safety nets. In August, APF was contacted by African friends and partners expressing concern at these statistics and bringing individual need to our attention.
The Judith Heard Foundation (JHF) in Uganda is committed to ending rape and sexual violence against women and girls. Their flagship project is a campaign called ‘Day One Global’ which seeks to educate, raise awareness and challenge the acceptance of sexual violence in Uganda. Lockdown has made it impossible for the campaign to be delivered in schools, universities and communities so energy is being spent on practically helping victims of abuse at a local level.
Judith recently shared the plight of two teenage girls the foundation is seeking to support.
Barbara (not her real name) is 14 and lives with her grandmother in an informal suburb of Kampala. In November, she would normally have expected to have completed the Primary 5 school year, instead she is six months pregnant. Her chances of ever returning to school are massively reduced. Barbara was groomed by a female neighbour and taken to visit a man who raped her. She returned several times as the man was paying her. Although he was arrested, he was granted bail apparently because the court had no funds for transporting him to prison. A further hearing will take place later this month. With funding from APF’s Covid-19 relief fund, Barbara has had an antenatal scan and will continue to receive support from midwives. Food and clothing are also being provided for her by Judith and her team.
Scovia (not her real name) lives with her family in a village beyond Iganga city. She is 17 and six months pregnant. The father is unknown. Early during the pregnancy Scovia developed an infection which caused her breasts to swell and the tissue to decay. She was taken to hospital in Kampala for tests but in fear, absconded overnight before getting a clear diagnosis or any treatment. She is now back in her village and due to give birth soon. Her family have seen the public outcry and appear to be exploiting the situation rather than getting medical help. The JHF are providing support.
Indirectly, the plight of Barbara and Scovia is compounded by the social, economic and health crisis posed by coronavirus. As hospitals and clinics have focused on the threat of Covid-19 there are insufficient resources and personnel to offer effective reproductive health care. Plus, the gateway for reproductive health care for teenage girls would often be through schools which are closed. Dr Manisha Kumar, head of a Medecins Sans Frontières task force states: “The collateral damage of taking that kind of approach is when we shut down these routine services, we see an increase in maternal and child death, from preventable causes.”
- For justice for Barbara, the safe delivery of her baby and long-term support for her, the child and grandmother
- For Scovia and her family, to accept and receive the offer of clinical intervention and for both her and that the baby would survive
- For the Judith Heard Foundation reaching out to teenage girls in crisis and for the Day One Global campaign to resume soon