As in many other countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya has a problem: Unintended and unplanned pregnancies.
And this crisis is likely to be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic as isolation and lockdown leads to prolonged human close proximity and inactivity, resulting in what one commentator has labelled the potential ‘Covid-19 baby boom’.
That hospitals are testing for the virus before offering any service has kept many people away. Couples seeking family planning services, besides the social and cultural barriers, now also face financial constraints. Women who normally pick up their contraceptives when their husbands are away at work may not, for fear of being discovered.
DN oped body: It is particularly worse for adolescents who are idle and need to expend their energy since they are out of school.
Nearly one in five teenagers in Kenya have already begun child bearing, which could spike with the Covid-19 safety measures.
From June 2016 to July 2017, a United Nations Population Fund study found, 378,397 adolescent girls in Kenya became pregnant, 28,932 of them aged 10-14. And two out of five pregnancies are unplanned.
One in four teenage mothers will drop out of school, many going on to have a second, third and fourth baby in rapid succession. In contrast, her lifetime earnings would have increased by 10-20 per cent for every year she stayed in school.
For the teenage mother and her children, it is a sociological disaster in terms of wealth, health and a lack of education. The lifetime cost of teenage pregnancy to the economy is 17 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). High rates of child dependency without opportunities hamper growth.
In the past 50 years, no country has achieved the ‘demographic dividend’ — a rapid transformation from low- to middle- or high-income economy — without giving the citizens the ability to have children when they want them. There is a direct relationship between women’s increasing ability to control their fertility and increasing GDP.
The key to that goal is for young women to delay their first pregnancy and space those that come thereafter. Spacing children means households can invest more in each child’s nutrition, health and education — meaning happier, healthier, better educated children and improved prospects.
Family planning produces cost savings that can be used on public services, meaning there is more for everyone. Every dollar (Sh100) invested in it can save $4 (Sh400) or more that can be used in other areas of development such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation. The same amount invested in contraceptive services reduces the cost of pregnancy-related healthcare, including care for women living with HIV, by $1.47 (Sh147). For every additional dollar spent, the cost of care will drop by $2.20 (Sh220).
The government must fully implement its commitment to increase modern contraceptive use and availability of long-acting and permanent methods of family planning. And there is a need to improve access to reproductive health services for adolescents and young adults.
Ms Godia is a member of the Regional Women Champions in Family Planning. [email protected]