BY THE SOCIETY FOR MEDIA ADVOCACY ON HEALTH, Nigeria
Stories about babies abandoned by their mothers across many Nigerian states have been rocking the media in recent times, unlike two decades ago. For instance, reports have it that over 237 abandoned babies were rescued across Lagos State in the past six years. One of the babies was a three-months-old, found inside a plastic bag in the Abule Egba a suburb of the state. What about the pathetic mother who gave birth in a toilet and then tried to flush her baby in the state, just recently.
In Abia state, a one month old baby was recently found in a pit latrine and was later rescued by the police. Also, in Jigawa State, the story of a 23-year-old woman who dumped her newborn baby in Dutse local government area trended while in Ogun State, a baby who still had his placenta uncut was abandoned by his mother.
Sadly, a new study has warned that this trend of abandoned babies would grow worse if strong measures are not taken.
The research entitled, “Prevalence and determinants of unintended pregnancy in Sub-Saharan Africa: A multi-country analysis of demographic and health survey” published by PLOS ONE Journal this year, revealed that approximately 14 million unintended pregnancies are recorded in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA).
Overall unintended pregnancy prevalence rate is 29 per cent in the region, ranging from 10.8 percent in Nigeria to 54.5 percent in Namibia, the study further showed.
The study stated that unintended pregnancies predisposes women to several risk factors such as unsafe abortion, abandoned babies, maternal death, malnutrition, mental illness and vertical transmission of HIV to children. It also increases stress levels, impacts negatively on women’s quality of life, and threatens economic status of families.
What can be done to halt the trend? Experts have called for the promotion of reproductive health among women, saying it would drastically reduce the incidence of abandoned babies following unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortion among adolescent girls and young women.
According to them, a good starting point is the review and implementation of the National Policy on Integrating Youth-Friendly Services into existing Primary Health Care Centres (PHCs). In addition the federal and state governments should upscale safe spaces for women to more PHC facilities.
Also, termly mentoring sessions on safe Sex Education to Students in public secondary schools and provision of incentives (examples, Sanitary pads, game tools, etc.) for student in secondary schools would go a long way. Indeed, states governments should also train service providers to be youth-friendly and provide Sexual Reproductive Health for women and girls, thereby increasing the network of youth-friendly service providers, which will in turn increase access.
Many analysts have commended recent moves by the Lagos state to increase young people’s access to youth friendly Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services. In response to adolescent reproductive health needs, the state allocated N29,840,000 in the 2019 budget which provides for the establishment of four Youth Friendly Centres at higher institutions across the state; follow up visits to rape victims and physical abuse.
Experts who see this as a positive step to curb unplanned or unintended pregnancies among adolescent girls and young women which are main reasons for abandonment of babies are calling for a replication of the Lagos model in other states Youth centres have an important role to play in relation to knowledge, attitudes and behaviour among young people and communities. These include changes in SRH-related knowledge and changes in behaviour. Youth centres and their outreach programmes can act as major catalysts for change.
A new study carried out by Research Gate titled, ‘Youth-Friendly Family Planning Services for Young People: A Systematic Review,’ explained the role of youth-friendly centres in reducing unintended pregnancies. Youth-friendly family planning services, services tailored to meet the particular sexual and reproductive health needs of young people (aged 10-24 years), may improve reproductive health outcomes, including reduction of unintended pregnancy. By ensuring inclusiveness for adolescents, SDG Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages); and Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) will be automatically addressed.
Much of the efforts rest with reproductive health-focused organisation and the governments because national agenda cannot match with anti-unintended pregnancy interventions without consistent political will. Urgent attention must be given to women and girls to prevent unplanned pregnancies, leading to abandoning of babies.