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Losing ground on maternal health

By Royson Willie PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Aug. 17, 2010) – In Vanuatu, out of 100 pregnant women visiting the hospital to deliver babies, 13 are girls below the age of 19.

This was revealed by World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Vanuatu, Dr. Rufina Latu when she made a presentation on Vanuatu’s progress in tackling health related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Ms. Latu said the above indicator is going in the opposite direction of Goal 5 of the Millennium Development Goals, which targets improving maternal health.

The health sector is one of the priority areas of the MDGs because out of the eight goals, Goal 4, 5, and 6 relate to health.

[PIR editor’s note: This past June, the Israeli government vowed to provide 1 million vatu [US$9,600] towards the country’s diabetes control program including free medicine to hospitals and health centers in Vanuatu. See story.]

And while Vanuatu has made progress in certain areas such as reducing child mortality rate, in other areas such as immunization of children for measles, teenage pregnancies and combating HIV/AIDS remain a challenge.

In terms of Goal 4, which targets the reduction of child mortality, Latu said over the last 10 year period mortality rate in Vanuatu has reduced.

But immunization for children against diseases such as measles remains very low with not much progress because only 38 percent of children have been vaccinated.

Under Goal 5 of the MDG that focuses on improving maternal health, Ms. Latu said there is very good progress because maternal mortality ration has reduced because of available health care service as well as skilled birth attendants.

However, there are still a very high number of girls below the age of 19 are getting pregnant.

This places Vanuatu’s record on tackling teenage pregnancies at a very poor level.

This is a contributing factor to the very high population growth of Vanuatu that stood at 2.8 percent with only Vanuatu and Solomon Islands competing at the top end while other Pacific countries stand at 1 percent.

Dr. Latu said when girls in that age group get pregnant it is almost like they are being forced to have a child because they are not psychologically prepared to have a child.

She said girls who do not have any financial means to support themselves and their baby also contribute to poverty in the family because it means that the girl’s mother will now have to look after the daughter and the grandchild.

The WHO representative said when there is malnutrition among children; it is this group of women and their babies that are affected.

Another area that needs tackling under MDG 5 is that of unmet need for family planning where Dr. Latu said sometimes the level of education and lack of health services for this purpose do not provide the condition for needs of a couple to be met in the area of family planning.

Finally under Goal 6 of the MDGs that tackles that combat against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, records have shown that malaria and tuberculosis (TB) are on the decline for Vanuatu.

But the biggest challenge is that of HIV/AIDS because so far there have been only five diagnosed cases where two have died.

But Dr. Latu said the figure is not really representative of HIV in Vanuatu because testing figures for the country are very low.

And she said only testing will give the true figures but at the moment that is not happening.

However, on one side, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea that pass through the same way as HIV/AIDS are very high in the country.

Dr. Latu said the Ministry of Health and Department have made surveys among young people and have found that young people are engaging in sex earlier in their lives.

In terms of taking measures against sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies, a research conducted by the Ministry of Health among boys and girls below the age of 24 showed that 84 percent of boys and 16 percent for girls did not use condoms, which exposes the risks in STIs and unwanted pregnancies.

Even a health surveillance study shows that boys and girls at the average age of 16 and 17 were already involved in sex and records have shown that 12 and 13 year old boys are involving in sex.

One the question of multiple partners or boys and girls who have more than one partner of the opposite sex 54 percent of the boys interviewed said they have multiple partners and 28 percent of the girls interviewed said the same.

And despite the many funds thrown in to educate young people on these issues, teenage pregnancy has not been reduced much under Goal 5 of the Millennium Development Goals.

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