10 May 2013

Sierra Leone: President Koroma Engages Donors On National Strategy for Teenage Pregnancy

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Mothers in a waiting room at a clinic in Sierra Rutile area, 250 km from Freetown.

His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma has said that the issue of teenage pregnancy is very much close to his heart.

He made this statement at a high level meeting held at State House, facilitated by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs on a national strategy on teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. The meeting sought to encourage donor partners to invest in the reduction of teenage pregnancy as well as a demonstration of government's commitment to the project.

The Chief Executive commended donor partners and the ministries concerned for the time and energy they have put into the strategy, saying it is important that a national strategy was developed since no single ministry can develop a strategy as everyone needs to be onboard.

While thanking donors for their pledges to the fight against teenage pregnancy, President Koroma called on them to increase their commitment as well as broaden the participation for others to come onboard.

"When I was concluding my first term, I was of the impression that my second and last term would be a little relaxing, but I have now known that there are more issues out there to tackle", he said amidst rapturous laughter among development partners present.

"In Sierra Leone, teenage pregnancy is one of the more pervasive problems affecting the health, social, economic and political progress and empowerment of women and girls. The issue to address is alarming and is reflected in the following national statistics: 34% of all pregnancies occur amongst teenage girls (SLDHS 2008), 26% of women age 15-19 have already had a birth (MICS 2010), 40% of maternal death occur as a result of teenage pregnancy (MICS 2010) and the untimely pregnancy of young girls is ranked as the third most common reason for them dropping out of school (UNICEF 2008)", said the co-chair of the meeting, Minister of Health and Sanitation, Miatta Kargbo.

According to Miatta Kargbo, President Koroma is the first president in Africa to put together a multi sectoral strategy to address teenage pregnancy and make it a national priority. She further noted that teenage pregnancy is a whole flagship in the Agenda for Prosperity just like Free Health Care under the Agenda for Change.

The Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Moijueh Kaikai as a way of opening remarks said that the fact that the meeting was held at State House, was an indication of the political commitment by the president to fight teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone.

The Deputy Minister of Youth Affairs, Ferehmusu Konteh, noted that teenage pregnancy is very much alarming in Sierra Leone, adding that we need to treat the threat very seriously as it affects the educational and economic goals of girls who are also youth in the country.

The ERSG Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen assured President Koroma of the UN's unflinching support to the fight against teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. He also acknowledged that the statistics which states that out of every three child born in Sierra Leone is born by a child is very much alarming.

Head of DFID in Sierra Leone & Liberia, Dr Phil Evans said that it was a strong signal that the Agenda for Prosperity isn't just about infrastructural development but also about social progress like teenage pregnancy. He registered DFID's commitment and willingness to actively participate in the fight against teenage pregnancy in the country.

The Charge d' Affairs of the Embassy of Ireland, Sinead Walsh also pledged their commitment to support the fight against teenage pregnancy, which she said is not just about social progress but also about economic modernization. She noted that the National Strategy against teenage pregnancy effectively compliments the fight against malnutrition, saying that the Irish Government "strongly supports this strategy".

The Chief Executive Officer of Africell, Shadi Al-Gerjawi said that as a private sector player, they believe in the fight against teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone, which he said is too diverse for one player to handle. He pledged to effectively use the media, including entertainment media to get preventive messages out to the public.

The UNICEF representative, Roeland Monasch also profusely commended the president for his outstanding leadership of the country, and went on to note that it's really a good thing that the strategy is a flagship under the Agenda for Prosperity. He pledged their full commitment to the fight against teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone.

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