Teenage pregnancies expected to rise due to Covid-19 lockdown, experts warn

Health and education experts have warned of an increasing number of teenage pregnancies, stigma and mental health problems among school going learners due to ongoing coronavirus induced lockdown.

Health and education experts have warned of an increasing number of teenage pregnancies, stigma and mental health problems among school going learners due to ongoing coronavirus induced lockdown.

Experts argue that because of lack of sexual reproductive services and information coupled with students having to be locked up with their abusers during this lockdown, numerous unintended pregnancies could be one of the negative effects.

"Having had this long lockdown as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, as the ministry of health, we are anticipating increase in teenage pregnancies, hence we need to equip our health facilities to effectively handle this," Dr Richard Mugahi, the Asst. Commissioner, Adolescent and School Health at the ministry of health said on Thursday.

This was during a Webinar online discussion, themed; "The School Health Issues amid Response to Covid-19" organised by Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development.

Ms Maureen Andinda, a Strategic and Business manager at Reach a Hand-Uganda, said the Education ministry is only concentrating on availing learners with study materials about the traditional subjects but excluded materials with sexual reproductive health information that is crucial in helping learners deal with their already enormous SRHR challenges.

"I was looking at the ministry of Education website but it only has the traditional subjects available for download, how about the information on reproductive health?" Ms Andinda asked

She thinks there has been a gap in highlighting sexual reproductive issues by the ministry during this lockdown which might have several unintended repercussions on the sexuality of learners.

Speaking on behalf of fellow learners currently under lockdown, Ms Nicole Musiime, a student of Hana International School, submitted that many of her female colleagues could be sexually undergoing abuse by their guardians or relatives at home and that given the prevailing lockdown, they have nowhere to run to.

"The schools should have sympathy with those female learners who might return to school pregnant once the lockdown is lifted. This is because the conditions some of them found themselves in as presented by the Covid-19 lockdown were not of their own making," Ms Musiime pleaded with school administrators.

She urged government to fast-track the finalization of the National School Health Policy that could have come in handy in such scenarios.

For example, once the School Health Policy is passed and adopted, every learner is expected to access relevant health services, information, knowledge and skills that are appropriate for their age, gender, culture, language and context, among others.
Further, once the policy is passed into law, it will also provide guidelines on how to manage cases of pregnant school girls, address issues of menstrual health, mental health and obesity in schools.

Other panellists like Mr Filbert Baguma, the spokesperson of the Uganda National Teachers Union and Ms Bena Kampiire, a senior woman teacher at St Joseph's primary schools highlighted a number of challenges that they anticipate when they re-open schools that would have been created by Covid-19 pandemic.
Some of these challenges included; expired food for the learners, how to effect social distancing in the classroom given the big number of learners.

Others are; use of water is expected to triple due to the frequent washing of hands by the learners, frequent and daily temperature testing of day scholars (need of gun temperature testers), and stigma especially those learners who will be presenting with Covid-19 like symptoms such as sneezing and coughing.

Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic globally, President Museveni in late March, ordered for the closure of all schools and universities with about 15 million learners sent home in a bid to minimise the spread of the deadly virus.

He closed the learning institutions for a month, however, the lockdown order was extended for another 21 days, which extension ends on Tuesday next week.