Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not only the absence of disease or infirmity in all matters relating to the reproductive system. A healthy reproductive system means that people have satisfying and safe sexual relationships and that people can reproduce (World Health Organization: 2021. https://www.who.int.westernpacific/health-topics/reprodcuctive-health, Accessed 17 January 2021).
Gender inequity, poverty among women, weak economic capacity, sexual and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation (FGM), are impediments to the amelioration of women’s health in the African region. Ensuring that women and men have equal access to opportunities to achieve their full health potential, the health sector and the community must recognise that women and men have different health needs. Because of social (gender) and biological (sex) differences, women and men experience different health risks, health-seeking behaviour, health outcomes, and health system responses. Research reported that 1 in 4 deaths among adult women are caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Tobacco is a leading risk factor for NCDs, and its use is increasing NCDs among young women (World Health Organization. 2020. https://www.afro.who.int/health-topics/sexual-and-reproductive-health, Accessed 18 January 2021).
According to Stopes (2021), access to good quality sexual and reproductive health services (SRHR) and information is required to protect the lives of adolescents. She continues to explain that social norms, gender stereotypes and power imbalances continue to control female sexuality, and other inequalities make accessing information and services challenging (https://mariestopes.org.za/reproductive-health-rights-in-south-africa/#:~text=Even, Accessed 18 January 2021). The two leading causes of adolescent deaths is maternal mortality and AIDS and are related to SRHR. However, they are highly preventable with adequate treatment and care. More than 20 million girls and young women aged 15-19 in developing countries need modern contraception. On a global scale, approximately 3.9 million adolescent girls put their lives at risk every year undergoing unsafe abortions. (https://mariestopes.org.za/reproductive-health-rights-in-south-africa/#:~text=Even, Accessed 18 January 2021).
SA to continue to improve access to reproductive health services
Minister Jackson Mthembu (2019) says that South Africa will continue to improve access to reproductive health care services. At the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which is currently underway in Nairobi, Kenya, Mthembu explained that the government devised a five-year plan. This plan explains that South Africa has plans to improve access to reproductive health services, which included educating youngsters about adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. Mthembu reiterated that South Africa will strive to further reduce child and maternal mortality, and improve access to reproductive health services and anti-retroviral treatment (SA News. gov.za) accessed 18 January 2021).
According to Simiyu (2020), teenage pregnancy in South Africa is a growing health, social and economic problem. It’s rampant among teenage girls, which increases the drop-out rate because young mothers are forced to leave school prematurely to care for their new babies. Teenage pregnancy in South African schools poses a serious leadership and management challenge. It demands that school management teams (SMTs) in the country acquire critical skills to manage the crisis within the parameters of the 1996 South African Schools Act 84. The burden of acquiring adequate levels of knowledge about contraception and prevention should not only be the girl’s responsibility, but also the boy’s. If possible, when leaders are preparing a teenage pregnancy speech or other seminar material, issues of adolescent health should be addressed and all-inclusive (https://briefly.co.za/37155-teenage-pregnancy-south-africa-causes-statistics-effects-remedies-facts.html) Accessed 18 January 2021).
Allowing teens to access youth-friendly, non-judgmental sexual and reproductive health information is the first step towards curbing the high rate of teenage pregnancy. Such information may include modern contraception methods, emergency contraception, STDs/STIs, HIV, and pregnancy termination (https://briefly.co.za/37155-teenage-pregnancy-south-africa-causes-statistics-effects-remedies-facts.html).
Teenage pregnancy commonly occurs among young and disadvantaged girls who have poor expectations in life. They may also lack knowledge and access to conventional child-limiting prevention methods because they are afraid of seeking information or help. Teenage pregnancy is driven by a myriad of factors, including gender inequalities, widespread poverty, sexual taboos, gender-based violence, gendered expectations, inadequate sex education, poor access to modern contraceptive methods, and inconsistent use of contraception. Lack of access to pregnancy termination services and judgmental attitudes by poorly informed health care workers are also important factors regarding teenage pregnancies (https://briefly.co.za/37155-teenage-pregnancy-south-africa-causes-statistics-effects-remedies-facts.htm).
According to the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey of 2016, children birthed by extremely young mothers are at a higher risk of sickness and premature death. In 2017, about 1 million babies were born in South Africa, and 6.8% of them were conceived by women between the age of 10 to 17. Studies have shown that mothers in their teens are more likely to experience health complications, such as difficult deliveries and hypertension, and if not addressed might lead to death. According to another source, although only 8% of pregnancies in South Africa are from teenage mothers, they contribute a worrisome 25% of the overall rate of maternal deaths (https://briefly.co.za/37155-teenage-pregnancy-south-africa-causes-statistics-effects-remedies-facts.html)