NEWS COMMENTARY ON ADOLESCENT REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
Ever since Ghana formally introduced policy interventions in the 1960s to control population growth, the policy has not achieved the desired goals. The country’s populations growth rate has remained three percent with the 2010 Population and Housing Census pegging the growth rate at two-point-five percent. Ghana’s population is expected to increase to 50 million in 2038 and 60 million by 2050. The consistent growth rate has had negative effects on the country’s development. The quality of life of the people has been affected by poor planning and failure to fully integrate population issues into the development agenda of the state. There are challenges with access to education, quality health care, needless maternal death, unemployment, infrastructural deficit and abject poverty. Basic necessities of life like food, shelter and clothing remain serious problems for many citizens. The state is still struggling to utilize the available resources and add value to them to meet the increasing demand of the growing population. We are confronted with the challenges of rapid urbanization, high dependency ratio, environmental degradation, poor sanitation, increasing crime rate and other socio-economic challenges. Besides not being successful integrating population issues into our development planning, one of the major causes for the failure in attempts to reduce the population growth rate is perhaps the society’s inability to demystify issues on sex and sexuality. Discussions on reproductive health are perceived as a taboo-subject. Therefore, most parents are not comfortable discussing matters of sex, puberty, maturation and other related issues on reproductive health with their wards. Matters relating to sex are hardly treated in public. A young person who seeks for answers to questions on sex or sexuality is seen as a “spoilt child”. Sex education in schools has not even been able to adequately address this cultural barrier. The peer education concept has not been successful either. Ironically, in some Ghanaian societies, young girls are given out for marriage at an early age even though it is unlawful.
Whichever way it is, culturally, the Ghanaian society is pro-natal and would like to ideally have a sizeable nuclear or extended family. The situation is however changing. The 2014 Demographic and Health Survey indicates that the fertility rate of the country is improving with each couple preferring to have an average of four children. Notwithstanding that, the fertility rate is still high in some regions. It is estimated that nationally, for every ten births, young women from 15 to 24 years give birth to three. Sixteen percent of the births are to adolescents’ age from 15 to 19 whilst women from 20 to 24 years constitute 15 percent of the birth. This comes with its own attendant challenges as the national teenage pregnancy rate is said to be going up. In the case of Ghana, young people from ages 10 to 24 constitute 32 percent of the population. Majority of this group are adolescents. As propounded by the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development, reproductive health goes beyond merely the absence of disease and infirmity. It includes the ability to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex and being able to decide when to reproduce and at what interval. Government and other stakeholders are expected to provide the adolescents and young people with necessary sexual and reproductive health information and services to enable them to deal with their sexuality in a positive and responsible way. Parent-child communication gap, inadequate access to reproductive healthcare, poor attitude of healthcare providers and reproductive health have been identified as challenges facing young people in Ghana. The National Population Council, NPC, the body mandated to advise the government on population issues is working with a reproductive health international organization, Marie Stopes International Ghana and other stakeholders to organize the second National Adolescent Reproductive Health summit in Accra from the 29th to 30th of this month to among other objectives show the linkage between effective population management and adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. At the end of it, the Summit would have come up with a road-map to address the inherent challenges of adolescent reproductive health and also fashion out how to provide technical and financial support to promote the reproductive health needs of young people.
Investing in the reproductive health needs of this segment of the population is an opportunity for the country to progress and improve quality of life of the people. We ought to protect the young people, particularly the adolescents, from HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, teenage pregnancy and complications in childbearing, sexual violence and death since they are the next generation. The laws and protocols protecting the reproductive health rights of young people must be seen to be working. We need to review the existing policies on the adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights to meet the changing demands of the youth. Again, we have to critically take a second look at the traditional approach to handling issues pertaining to the reproductive health rights and sexuality of young people.
BY: CHRISTOPHER ASIEDU, A BROADCAST JOURNALIST.