Poverty and a lack of access to education are fuelling teen pregnancies and high HIV rates among young people, according to Vhembe health officials in Limpopo.
Madimbo Clinic, situated about 90km out of Thohoyandou in Limpopo’s Mutale area, serves six villages and 15 farms. Amid high levels of poverty, there is also limited access to secondary education. Pupils looking to go to seconday school must travel more than seven kilometres every day to attend the nearest school and the distance fuels drop out rates, according to Robert Sirwali, acting district manager for Department of Health in Vhembe.
According to Sirwali, poverty and low levels of education are among the factors fuelling teen pregnancy rates and HIV rates among the area’s youth.
The Madimbo Clinic delivers about 25 babies every month. The clinic also sees about 17 pregnant girls between the ages of 13 and 14 years monthly, according to Sirwali. He adds health officials in the area are also worried about high rates of HIV infections among young people.
“About 610 HIV patients visit Madimbo clinic every month and unfortunately the majority of these people are youth,” Sirwali tells OurHealth.
According to the latest District Health Barometer, about eight percent of all mothers who deliver in Vhembe health facilities are below the age of 18 years. The country’s highest rate of teen mothers is found in the Eastern Cape’s Alfred Nzo district where about 13 percent of all babies born in health facilities are born to teen mothers.
About 15 percent of all pregnant women in Vhembe are HIV-positive, according to the latest Barometer by the Health Systems Trust.
Sirwali attributed the high rate of teenage pregnancy and HIV infections to not only poverty and low education levels, but also a lack of entertainment options.
“I have also noticed that a lack of entertainment facilities, like community halls and sporting facilities, contributes to these social ills,” he says.
He said he and others were also worried that “many of the youth may be falling pregnant as another way of accessing child-support grant.”
“There is a possibility that many of girls fall pregnant in order to get child-support grant,” he says. “It is a difficult issue to address as many are doing that in order to escape poverty.”
Dean Alunamutwe Randitsheni of the Lutheran Church of Southern Africa also thinks that the country’s child support grant that might be fuelling teen pregnancy. He argues that the provision of child support grants should be more strictly regulated and should not be provided to young girls.
Introduced in 1998, South Africa’s child support grant has long driven speculation that the R300 a month grant could act as a perverse incentive for young women to fall pregnant. However, 2006 research by the Health Sciences Research Council found that it is unlikely that the provision of child support grants was a factor in teen pregnancy. Reviewing teen pregnancy rates over several decades, researchers found that these rates were higher prior to the grant being introduced and that only about 20 percent of teen mothers were accessing these grants at the time the research was released.
The Vhembe district Department of Health plans to organise community awareness campaigns that will educate community about HIV as well as the dangers of alcohol abuse.
“We are planning to involve other stake-holders like social development and others so that we can fight this challenge,” Sirwali says.