By Marie-Therese Nanlong.
Jos – Challenges of unintended or unwanted pregnancies especially among teenage girls in Plateau State are now giving everyone cause for concern. It is now common to see teenage girls in the rural areas with bulging tummies. Many of them survive the stress of the unplanned births, while some don’t and people will ignorantly say ‘it is her destiny’ to die that way.
Those who bear the pains and shame to give birth are stigmatized and those who don’t want the stigma, secretly abort the pregnancies, mostly in the hands of quacks and risk destroying their wombs.
The sad tales of pregnant teenage girls abandoned by their erstwhile lovers abound in the villages in Plateau State, and how to tackle it is a big challenge.
Interviews by Saturday Vanguard in the last two months with over 20 pregnant teenage girls and teenage mothers in Ban, Barkin Ladi, Tudun Wada in Jos North Local Government Area, Lalin and Garkawa communities in Mikang Local Government Area revealed that the girls had no idea how to access family planning services and this ignorance could cost them their health and future.
Esther (not real name) in Ban community said her runaway boyfriend, a man in his 20s did not want to use the only method of family planning she knew which was condom. Her words, “When he started coming to me, I was afraid of AIDS and pregnancy but he promised that nothing would happen. Truly, we met for over six months and nothing happened but eventually I got pregnant. When I informed him, he suggested abortion but I was afraid of death so I declined. He said if I would not abort the baby he would deny me and that was what happened as he ran away and I don’t know where he is now.
“My parents too are not happy with me, they only allow me and the baby to stay in the house but I try to fend for myself and my baby. I don’t know anything about family planning; it is only condom I know because of AIDS.”
The pregnant teenage girls claimed ignorance of family planning services or were afraid to openly access the services as unmarried people and that they also have no one to confide in.
Family planning experts are therefore very concerned about this development and have raised alarm about the level of uncontrolled population explosion without concurrent resources.
Confirming the level of ignorance, Dr. Josiah Mutihir, the Chairman, Voice for Family Planning and Reproductive Health Centre, a Technical Team on reproductive health in the State Ministry of Health said, statistics has shown the true situation on ground hence the need to tackle the issue.
Mutihir stressed that the population is growing faster than its resources and this poses a great danger to the country’s future and if the trend is not checked, it would result in total collapse of the country’s economy as well as cause more insecurity and warned against political and socio-cultural practices encouraging overpopulation.
He said, “Ideally, population should only grow according to resources but in developing countries, it’s the reverse and this poses a great challenge to socio-economic development. Aside from voting for politicians with our numbers (large population), I don’t know what else we get from having large families that we can’t cater for.
“Despite the belief that it is in the public space, many people especially in the rural areas do not have the right information about family planning, neither do they know where to go to access family planning services. Family planning is responsible parenthood, responsible child spacing which help families to have the number of children they can cater for at a particular time and at the particular age. Unfortunately in Plateau State, 23% of married women do not want to have a child, but are not using family planning.
“83% of women have not heard or seen family planning messages on the radio or through any other media source in the past few months. Would be clients have no idea where to go and some end up with patent medicine stores who know nothing about such services.
“We are calling on government at the State and local government levels to support in areas of supplies of commodity and consumables as well as engage quality service providers to attend to those in need because population needs to grow alongside development so that there will not be problem. By addressing barriers to family planning access, the state could save more mothers’ lives and reduce additional cost that unintended pregnancies bring.”
Also speaking, the State Reproductive Health Coordinator, Mrs. Hannatu Dung lamented the lack of qualified medical personnel and facilities to provide family planning services. She said based on last year’s statistics, the state has “89 doctors, 221 male nurses, 395 female nurses/midwives, 93 community health officers, 746 senior male and female CHEWs, 346 junior male and female CHEWs, 142 male/female EHO, 386 male and female EHA, 234 male and female Lab technicians, six male and female Pharm Technicians and 83 Health Record Officers. Some of these people might have died, retired or moved. Again, only 696 PHCs are offering family planning services in the State.”
She then called for urgent employment and deployment of skilled health workers to the field to provide family planning services, domestication of existing reproductive health and family planning policies and capacity development for health workers for effective service delivery.
Confirming the dearth of especially medical doctors in the State employment, the Director, Medical Service in the State Ministry of Health, Dr. Samuel Audu gave a recent statistic which shows lower number from Dung’s last year’s report.
Audu said, “We have 17 local government areas in the state but we have only14 functional General Hospitals and the Plateau Hospital under Hospital Management Board. Right now we have a total of 75 doctors, 29 in the General Hospitals, two in the Ministry excluding the Permanent Secretary and 44 in Plateau Hospital including the CMD. Some General hospitals have one doctor each, some have two while some have three depending on the number of patients and the location of the hospitals.
“The number is grossly inadequate and the doctors are over-worked; some health workers like Nurses, Pharmacists, Community Health workers, cleaners, security personnel are volunteers offering their services free.
This is not good enough but the good thing is that there is an opening for employment but how many would be employed as there was no employment in the state for many years. Many graduates are roaming the streets without employment and the corps doctors prefer to serve in faith-based and private facilities where they will be paid well.”