The campaign to reduce teen pregnancies, maternal mortality and new HIV infections in Kenya faces hurdles due to little information and reproductive health services for sexually active young people, an academic and medical researcher has said.
Prof Marlene Temmerman, who is the chairperson of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Aga Khan University Hospital, said teenage girls carry the biggest burden and consequences of sex.
"Statistics on teenage pregnancy and HIV infections have shown that a number of them are engaged in sex. Sexually active adolescents should be able to decide on when to get pregnant. If they are already having sex, why not let them get access family planning services?" she told the Nation Wednesday.
The burdens such girls bear include the risk of getting infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea and syphilis, she said.
"Adolescent girls are the major victims of consequences of sexual activity, including unplanned pregnancies. They should be able to access these services without being judged, victimised or sent away from school and home," Prof Temmerman said.
She added that a huge number of teenagers do not have access to reproductive health services due to ignorance, stigma and false information.
According to the World Health Organisation, complications during pregnancy were the second cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls globally in 2014.
In 2015, Kenya developed a National Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health Policy (ASRH) but it was opposed by religious groups.
According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, some nine per cent of women aged 45 to 49 years were married by the time they were 15, compared to two per cent among those aged 15-19.
And 15 percent of women aged 20-49 had their first sexual encounter by age 15 while 50 per cent had had sex by the time they were 18.
The data also showed 23 percent of women aged between 20 and 24 had given birth before turning 18.
The United Nations Population Fund says an estimated 18 per cent of adolescent Kenyan girls aged 15 to 19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.
Kenya records 8,000 new HIV infections among children aged 14 years and below annually, with an estimated 22 teens being infected daily.
Recalling her experience as a practising gynaecologist, Prof Temmerman said she saw patients die because they arrived at hospitals with advanced complications resulting from septic infections and botched abortions.
"In my 40 years of experience as an obstetric gynaecologist, I have supervised more than 18,000 deliveries. I have seen women and girls die because they came for assistance when it was already too late," she said.
The Belgian-born medic added that Kenya has made progress in ensuring women have increased access to family planning methods and services but added that adolescents are not yet empowered to take control of their reproductive health rights.
"Kenya has done well as evidenced by the achievement of our target on contraceptive use among married women, which is at 58 per cent. However, our women and girls need support to be able to decide on when to have children," she said.
Prof Temmerman said adolescents are still subjected to sexual abuse in many parts of the country without the option of family planning and contraception.
"Girls are getting pregnant in abusive situations like child marriage and defilement," she said.