Motsoaledi told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health yesterday that teenage moms were much more likely to die in labour or to give birth to premature babies, who at risk of dying or being disabled.
The country is battling to reduce maternal and newborn mortality as part of its commitments to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and deaths among teen moms are a big obstacle to meeting the MDGs, Motsoaledi said.
“About eight percent of pregnancies involve girls under the age of 18, but the under-18s make up 36 percent of maternal deaths,” he told Health-e.
South Africa has committed itself to the near-impossible task of reducing maternal mortality to 38 deaths per 100 000 births – currently the rate is 269 deaths.
In addition, it has committed itself to reduce the deaths of children under five to 20 deaths per 1000 births (currently 60). About half of these children die within a week of being born, usually because of prematurity, infection or suffocation during birth.
“Premature babies are mostly delivered to teenage girls, some because they were trying to abort the babies,” Motsoaledi said. “Many times the premature baby is born with lungs that cannot breathe because the child is not ready to get out of the womb.”
“We are going to launch a huge family planning programme to stop teen pregnancies within a year,” he added. “We need to make sure that girls who are not supposed to fall pregnant don’t do so.”
Addressing critics who argued he would offer contraceptives to primary school children, Motsoaledi retorted that “the age of menstruating has come right down, so that girls of nine are starting to menstruate and can fall pregnant.”
He said that he aimed to address men too, as “they are not supposed to be touching these girls.”
Reducing maternal mortality is the only MDG the country will miss by miles when the international deadline expires in 2015.
However, department of health official Dr Nonhlanhla Dlamini reported there was some good news.
“If we look at the deaths of women who give birth in institutions, we find this rate is going down,” she said. “In 2009, this figure was 188.9 deaths but in 2012, it was down to 146.7 deaths.”
One of the most serious challenges was ensuring that pregnant women had speedy access to ambulances to get them to hospitals when in labour, she added.
The Free State had massively reduced its maternal mortality rate in the space of a single year by “reorganising its emergency medical services,” she said. – Health-e News Service.