Thyolo — Rachel Masanga is a Standard 5 drop out currently pregnant. Her life is going through hell. At 15, she is already facing maternal complications befitting the age of her mother.
It is over three months now since she walked into the maternity ward at Thyolo District Hospital to await her labour. When she arrived, the nurses told her that she would only deliver through caesarian section. She froze with fear. The subsequent experience vindicated her fright.
Discharge of fluid with blood stains was her ticket into early admission to the maternity ward at the district referral facility.
"I am always afraid when I think of the situation I am now," says Masanga.
The sight of teen mothers like Masanga has sadly become all too familiar in Thyolo.
A walk from the main market at the Boma to the District Council's offices takes you to a strange glimpse of teenage girls, walking leisurely or basking in the sun along the hospital's fence. Nearly all of them are in wrappers up their breasts, with bare backs.
Nurse having a light moment with the teenagers
The way they lift their legs to push their weighty bodies forward tells it all that this is a struggle.
For Masanga, it is all night mares. She confesses that she never envisaged that labour is such a painful journey especially for young girls like her.
"I don't know when I shall deliver. I wish it came today so that I forget all the troubles. I am too young for what I am going through," she says.
This is the situation with most girls who come for antenatal or waiting for delivery at Thyolo District Hospital. Almost all the girls are underaged, dropped out of school at primary level and experience a great deal of pregnancy complications. Only fate has the power to determine whether they would deliver normally or not.
About 38 in every 100 pregnant mothers at Thyolo District Hospital are teenagers.
Mirriam Windo, in-charge of the labour ward at the facility, says the rate of teenage pregnancies in the district is so alarming, resulting in increased numbers of stillbirths and deaths of newly born babies.
The expectant Rachel
She says pregnant teenagers are always under huge risks of maternal complications because their bodies are not mature enough for the process of giving birth.
"Most teenage pregnancies end up in operation theatre for caesarian section," Windo points out.
Thyolo district is on the move to reduce deaths of newly born babies. And it has started with measures to stop the proliferation of teenage pregnancies.
In February this year, Unicef launched 'Every Child Alive' campaign in Thyolo. The aim is to ensure that every new born baby in the district is prevented from dying during or after birth.
The launch took place at Thyolo District Hospital in recognition of the facility's significant strides towards such efforts.
Unicef's partnerships specialist, Charlene Thompson, says the campaign was an opportunity for government and partners to raise awareness on the importance of preventing deaths of new born babies throughout the country.
"There is need to do more especially on child marriages, which results into early pregnancies and later into complicated deliveries," Thompson says.
Thyolo District Health Officer (DHO), Arnold Jumbe says that the rate of the teenage pregnancies is high.
"Almost half of deliveries in the district's hospitals are for teenagers, pegged at 37.7 in every 100 deliveries," Jumbe laments.
To reverse the trend, he points out that the health sector is working with traditional leaders across the district, sensitizing communities on dangers of early marriages.
The campaign, Jumbe adds, creates an opportunity for the sector to intensify awareness in communities to curb early marriages and deal with teenage pregnancies for the successful prevention of neonatal deaths.
"We can reverse the situation if we work with chiefs. They should be in the forefront discouraging early marriages, which result into teenage pregnancies," Jumbe emphasizes.
Senior Chief Mphuka is one of the traditional leaders who gets annoyed with girls dropping out of school due to early marriage or teenage pregnancy.
He has since instituted committees led by village heads to ensure that both girls and boys of school going age do not engage in sexual relationships.
Mphuka has empowered all village heads to deal with any parent or guardian whose child misbehaves. The committees penalize any family with a fine of two goats if their child is on wrong side of set guidelines.
"We have by-laws which were put in place to deter early marriages and pregnancies. We are very committed in implementing them. We also encourage boys and girls to go back to school after dropping out for various reasons," Senior Chief Mphuka says. "The proceeds from the fines are disbursed as bursary to needy students in my area."
The main objective of the initiative, the traditional leader adds, is to reduce the number of girls who become pregnant and end up in marriage. And he believes there is one aspect which is key to solving this challenge.
"We want them to focus on their education. It is only through this education that we can eliminate maternal and neonatal deaths in the district," Mphuka says.