Health workers: Teenage pregnancies fall in 2019 but are still too high

Vila Central Hospital records show around five babies are born in a single mid-wife nurse’s shift each day.

Nego Alwin, a Department of Health’s Information System Health Officer at the Vila Central Hospital, says these births include a high number of babies born to teenage mothers.

Mr Alwin says Vila Central Hospital statistics show teenage pregnancy rates have increased steadily at the hospital over the last few years but dropped slightly in 2018 and dramatically in 2019.

The hospital records show that in 2014, 333 teenage girls gave birth at the hospital; in 2015, 360 teenage girls gave birth at the hospital; in 2016, 346 teenage girls gave birth; and in 2017 the figure rose again to 367.

However, in 2018, the figure fell slightly to 340; in 2019 it fell again to 192; and 2020 figures have not yet been compiled.

These statistics only include teenage mothers giving birth at the Vila Central Hospital, not births from other health centers and hospitals in the country.

Mr Alwin says he believes the fall in teenage pregnancies in 2019 could reflect the success of reproductive health awareness campaigns run by the Health Ministry that may have assisted many teenage girls to understand the issues around getting pregnant at a young age and how to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Wamilly Massing, a youth officer with the Vanuatu Family Health Association, says despite the slight drop in 2018 and 2019, teenage pregnancy figures in Vanuatu are still too high.

Mr Massing who recently attended a reproductive health workshop in Port Vila, says the workshop raised the awareness and understanding of the young participants.

He believes the participants will return to their communities and spread the message to other young people about reproductive health and how to prevent teenage pregnancies.

Presica Kalu, a peer educator, also attended the workshop, and plans to share information from the workshop with youth in her community.

Ms Kalu is calling on teenagers not to have sex “until their bodies properly mature and are ready to have sex”.

She says engaging in sex at a young age can increase the likelihood of teenage girls getting cervical cancer.

“In many rural areas, young people are not well educated and it is our duty to educate them about these issues,” she said.

The Director for Youth Challenge Vanuatu, Noel Steven, says teenage girls giving birth can face medical and social problems.

“The teenage girl’s life could be in danger,” he said. “The pregnancy will also affect her education. She may drop out of school and that can lead to unemployment.”

Mr Stevens says the issue is a serious one with Vanuatu experiencing high unemployment rates.

“If more young people become unemployed, it will be even more difficult for Vanuatu,” he says.

He believes the number of graduates from universities could also drop; more young people will marry at an early age; and in severe cases, young mothers facing pressure from their parents could take their own lives.

The Vanuatu Family Health Association runs reproductive health workshop each year as it believes education is key in bringing teenage pregnancy rates down.

The association plans to assist the workshop’s young participants to run awareness in their communities when they return home.

Youth from islands around Vanuatu attended the recent workshop.

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