On the International Day of the Girl Child, a network of Ugandan society groups, health workers, young people, and other concerned citizens harshly criticized a decision by Ministry of Health executive leadership to halt the release of the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Guidelines and Service Standards.
Last month, the state minister for primary health Joyce Moriku at the closing ceremony of family planning conference declined to launch the national guidelines and service standards for sexual and reproductive health and rights noting that stakeholders had been involved in the compilation of the guidelines.
Now the civil society have tasked the ministry to release the guidelines in a bid to reduce the teenage pregnancies.
According to the 2016 Uganda Demographic Health Survey 25% of adolescent girls and young women aged 15-19 in Uganda is pregnant or a mother, one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Shockingly, this statistic has remained unchanged since 2006, despite massive funding by donor governments in reproductive health services.
Denis JJuuko the program officer for CEHURD, notes that there is a big In Uganda, teenage pregnancy has drastic and far-reaching health, development, and economic affects at the individual, family, community and national levels. These include preventable death in childbirth, high risk of unsafe abortion, lack of access to education, poverty, lost economic growth, and more. Despite the catastrophic consequences of teen pregnancy, Ministry of Health has not only failed to invest in interventions that work, but also is fixated on thwarting actions that drive life saving services even further out of the hands of young women.
“Upon rejecting the guidelines, which are designed to focus attention on the services delivery needs of young women and girls agenda 15-19, Ministry of Health officials made inaccurate claims, for example that they “had not been consulted” and that the Guidelines intended to distribute contraceptives to 10 year olds.” said Patrick Mwesigye, the team leader for Uganda outh and Adolescent Health Forum
Experts pointed out that sexual activity among Ugandan teenage girls is an issue that the Ministry of Health has refused to address with evidence-based responses.
“Instead of ensuring a robust policy environment based on human rights and community needs, there is a policy desert. This must stop. We have to address the reality Ugandan girls are facing. These actions are making life for Ugandans more dangerous, by tying the hands of our policy makers and health workers. We need access to services based on science and evidence, and that includes sexual and reproductive health services such as Pre Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV prevention, contraception, and more for young people who are sexually active,” Jjuuko noted
Uganda’s rate of maternal mortality and morbidity due to unsafe abortion is higher than the regional average, and teenagers are at particularly high risk of complications from unsafe abortion—due to stigma, fear, isolation and criminalization.
This abrupt reversal is not the first of its type—Coalition members pointed to the ban on Comprehensive Sexuality Education announced in 2016, as well as the withdraw in 2015 of the Standards and Guidelines on Prevention of Maternal Mortality Due to Unsafe Abortion as part of an alarming trend in top Ministry of Health management sabotaging evidence based policies and approaches to prevent unnecessary suffering and death. Infighting and attacks among Executive Management has also created distraction from core work and demoralization among staff.