Sixteen-year-old Sarah (not real name), a Primary Seven dropout in Akalo Sub-county, Kole District is breastfeeding her baby after giving birth in December last year at Lira Regional Referral Hospital.
Like many teenage girls, she experienced life-threatening labour complications but was rescued through timely surgical operation by the doctors at the hospital.
Sarah is part of thousands of girls who got unplanned pregnancies during the Covid-19 lockdown and the subsequent closure of schools, and the estimated 1.7 million women who gave birth in the country last year.
A new study by researchers from Makerere University School of Public Health that was conducted between September and October 2020, indicates that 43 per cent of the births in the country last year were unplanned.
The information is contained in the 2020 Performance Monitoring for Action (PMA) report, a bi-annual household and facility survey, which was done in 122 villages and 4,270 households across the country by a team of researchers from the university and National Bureau of Statistics.
Dr Simon Kibira, a lecturer at the university and one of the leaders of the research team, attributes the unintended pregnancies to limited knowledge of sexual reproductive health services and early engagement in sexual activity by teenagers and rape.
“The proportion of women who are using family planning methods is very small compared to the total number of women who are sexually active,” Dr Kibira said last week.
Dr Ben Kibirige, a national trainer on sexual reproductive health rights, asked government to increase access to contraceptives for teenagers to curb unplanned pregnancies.
“Adolescent women make up one-quarter of the female population and they account for 14 per cent of total [annual] births in the country. More than half of the pregnancies among adolescents in Uganda are unintended and 30 per cent end in abortion,” he said.
The PMA report indicates that 70 per cent and 52 per cent of pregnancies among rural and urban adolescent girls (15 to 19 years) in 2020, respectively, were unintended.
The country registers 1.7 million new births each year, which is placing Uganda among the countries with the fastest-growing population in the world, according to Dr Kibira.
Ms Stella Kigozi, the information director at the National Population Council, said majority of the population is unproductive. She said they are working with different partners and engaging communities to reverse the trend.
Only 45 per cent of sexually-active women are using family planning methods, according to the report. This puts them at high risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
Up to 56 per cent of girls between the ages of 18 and 24 told researchers that they had their first sexual intercourse before the age of 18.