Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYHAF) has held a couple of young mother’s forums in different parts of the country. These young mother’s forums provide a platform for young mothers, pregnant teenagers, and adolescent girls at high risk of sexual and gender-based violence to meet, share life stories, experiences and discuss maternal and child health obstacles and challenges, propose and suggest solutions to these challenges, learn from experts and technical people on the key concepts of maternal and child health care including; focused antenatal care, health facility deliveries, family planning, postnatal care, breastfeeding, immunization, nutrition, general child growth, and fighting gender-based violence among others. Quite often many teenage mothers and pregnant teenagers are less likely to visit a health facility for antenatal care or postnatal care. As a result, teenage girls are twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth in comparison to a woman in her 20 years and above and from a stable family. Teenage mothers are also more at risk of pregnancy-related complications and disabilities before, during, and after childbirth. Pregnancy and childbirth-related complications are so far the leading cause of death among adolescent girls of 15-19 years. Teenage pregnancy and childbirth is also the leading cause of school dropouts among girls of school age. Girls who have dropped out of school lack employable skills. This leads to low productivity which in long term contributes to poverty.
On 29th January 2021, Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF) organized a young mother’s forum in the Mbale district at the UYAHF Adolescent Health Forum. The meeting was graced by young mothers, health workers, and members of the Eastern Uganda youth network which comprises members from the districts of Tororo, Butalejja, and Mbale. The youth network on Adolescents and youth SRHR aims to pursue youth advocacy and coordination for increased demand, access, and uptake of essential and quality youth-friendly SRHR services in the three districts. The young mother’s forum was attended by 107 participants (92 F and 15 M).
Patrick Mwesigye, the Team leader of UYAHF gave opening remarks and informed the young mothers that there is going to be a lot of learning during the forum regarding Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) information and services. Patrick also shared about the recently launched UYAHF Adolescent Health clinic that focuses mostly on the youth and has youth healthy workers, are well trained in the provision of youth-friendly services. The clinic also makes referrals and follow-ups on SRHR information and services like Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), HIV screening, prevention, and treatment, and free condoms provided to young people. Aside from condoms, patients are expected to part with a small fee for the other services received and this fee helps with the day to day running of the clinic. In his remarks, Patrick also mentioned that UYAHF has a youth hub right at the clinic which is a safe space for young people to learn from each other by sharing challenges and best practices on various SRHR experiences, build their capacities in youth engagement and advocacy and enjoy the innovations aboard. UYAHF holds entrepreneurship and skills development workshops where young people are trained from and equipped with practical and hands-on innovative and entrepreneurship skills. These programs aim at empowering young people with self-sustaining, innovative, and income generation skills. At the youth hub, young people can watch movies in the evenings, play games such as draft, ludo among others while discussing SRHR issues that do affect them. “There is a Suubi helpline (+256 759479995) which is a 24/7 helpline that people can reach out to in case they need to know about any clarity on SRHR services and information, counselling, referrals among others”, Patrick said. While concluding with his remarks he called upon the young mothers to go for check-ups after the session and encouraged them to always reach out to the clinic for anything concerning their SRHR issues.
Sr. Lillian the head of gender-based violence and Sr. Abigail the head of adolescent youth health and focal person in the Mbale district handled the session about the key concepts of safe motherhood like antenatal care, family planning, immunization, nutrition, and postnatal care among others. Sr. Lillian stressed Antenatal care (ANC) is the specialized medical care given to pregnant women from the time of conception to the time of delivery. New guidelines suggest that mothers are to attend ANC 8 times (1 visit per month from the time a pregnant woman confirms pregnancy), the 8 visits enable close monitoring of the mother. Unlike the previous arrangement of 4 ANC visits. Lactating mothers who are HIV positive are cautioned to adhere to ART for both the mother and the baby during breastfeeding to avoid transmission of the virus. Mothers who are HIV positive are encouraged to engage in exclusive breastfeeding(EBF) for at least the first 2years, while those that are HIV negative up to 6 months. Pregnant women are highly cautioned not to swallow drugs prescribed by nonskilled and qualified health workers. Some of the drugs that are contraindicated in pregnancy are; Doxycycline, Metronidazole, ciprofloxacin among others.
Sr. Abigail shared with the young mothers the importance of early detection and recognition of danger signs and complications as part of the birth and emergency planning. During pregnancy, there could be vaginal bleeding, severe abdominal pain, fast or difficult breathing, severe headaches with blurred vision, swollen legs (oedematous), etc. “When you experience any of the dangers listed above it is important to ensure that they are acted upon without delay by rushing to a nearby health centre”, she said. She advised them to always ensure that they go to a health centre or hospital since most of the women that give birth at home are assisted by untrained birth attendants. “This poses a great risk and danger to the pregnant woman and the baby since the untrained birth attendants are informed by some detrimental cultural practices, don’t get professional advice on how to treat the umbilical cord, among others”, she stressed. Giving birth from the hospital/ health centre is the right thing to do since it has many advantages such as; it’s the safest environment for the mother at risk for medical complications during labour, emergency personnel and equipment is available if the mother develops complications or needs medical attention among others.
She encouraged the young mothers to engage in child spacing to enable them to give appropriate love and care to their children. The participants shared some of the family planning methods they were using or know of and they shared methods like condoms, implants, pills, moon beads, and withdrawal. She advised them not to use the withdrawal method because it’s not as effective as many other methods and thus not effective for the prevention of pregnancy. Family planning is divided into groups i.e. long-term acting reversible methods(LARsCs) and short-term acting methods(SACs). A small number of the participants informed Sr, Abigail that they were not using any Family Planning method because of how they talked about it in the community. The participants shared some of the myths such as Family Planning causing cancer, barrenness, giving birth to disabled children, weight gain among others. A story was shared by the participants of a girl who was using a LARC method i.e. 5yrs fell sick and unfortunately passed on, natives of the village assumed that the implant moved from the site of insertion to the heart and killed her. From their submissions, it was evident that they are not using contraception because they are concerned about the side effects or health risks of contraceptives and the people close to them oppose contraception. All sexually active women and girls, whether married or not need accurate information around the risk of becoming pregnant and about the full range of contraceptive options so that they can choose the method that best meets their needs.