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Give 16-year-olds contraceptives

by Lloyd Gumbo
28 Oct 2015 at 01:14hrs | Views
Girls of at least 16 years of age should be allowed access to contraceptives to reduce maternal mortality among adolescents, Parliamentarians heard yesterday.

Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe director-general Ms Gugu Mahlangu told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development that a number of young girls died from pregnancy-related complications, hence the need to protect them.

The committee, chaired by Zanu-PF MP for Goromonzi West Beatrice Nyamupinga, sought to know the side-effects of contraceptives. This followed Registrar-General Mr Tobaiwa Mudede's claims that contraceptives had serious side-effects. Mr Mudede is calling for a ban on hormonal contraceptives. Ms Mahlangu said banning contraceptives was not an option since there were more benefits than disadvantages in their usage.

Legislators asked the minimum age at which girls could safely access contraceptives. "The contraceptives have been studied in juvenile populations, 16-year-olds, so minimum should be 16-year-olds," said Ms Mahlangu.

"No one below 16 years should take hormonal contraceptives. By then you are probably in Form Three or Form Four. So you can take contraceptives from that age and in other jurisdictions they actually do take a lot of contraceptives at that age," she said.

"Studies have indicated that there are no long-term serious implications for taking contraceptives. In fact, it is probably safer for these youngsters to take contraceptives than to become pregnant, particularly in certain situations where they have no access to healthcare. "The maternal mortality due to pregnancy, particularly in our jurisdiction, three years ago Zimbabwe had the highest maternal mortality in the world. So, it is much safer for the child to then take contraceptives than to expose themselves to pregnancy at such a young age."

Ms Mahlangu said hormonal contraceptives were used worldwide since the 19th Century and ranked among the greatest successes of preventive medicine in the medical fraternity. "The numerous benefits of hormonal contraception include reducing blood loss in women with heavy periods, making periods less painful, protecting women against womb, ovarian and large bowel cancers.

"Above all, contraception allows families to prevent unwanted pregnancies and facilitates healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies," she said.

"Contraception has been shown to lower maternal deaths due to complications from short-interval pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions which desperate women may end up resorting to. These conclusions are supported by robust scientific data from local and international research," said Ms Mahlangu.

She said while there were negative effects, benefits far-outweighed the disadvantages. Ms Mahlangu said women were counselled about the disadvantages before opting to use them. She said the use of non-hormonal contraception like withdrawal method were less effective than hormonal contraception. "Its (withdrawal) widespread use will lead to a significant increase in the number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and possibly unnecessary maternal deaths.

"The use of jadelle is definitely not banned in the USA and it is currently registered in 50 countries worldwide. Jadelle is also on the World Health Organisation list of prequalified products. "The safety of hormonal contraception has been well demonstrated locally and internationally as acknowledged by the WHO Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, Fifth Edition, 2015," she said.

Nyamupinga said while Mr Mudede's arguments were valid, benefits for using contraceptives far-outweighed the negative effects. Zanu-PF MP for Nyanga North Hubert Nyanhongo said the use of contraceptives could have affected Zimbabwe's population growth. He said there was need to facilitate procreation to enable the country to have the required labour force like other countries.

But MCAZ head of pharmacovigilence and clinical trials Ms Priscilla Nyambayo said population growth was affected by a number of factors. She said there were no scientific studies supporting Nyanhongo's submissions. "Besides HIV and Aids, if you look at Zimbabwe, TB is a big killer as well as a disease and it is also compounded by immuno-compromised people. Malaria is also a major killer. Just the pregnancy itself, is also a killer. Women die from just getting pregnant, never mind using contraceptives.

"There are so many complications associated with pregnancy and the 2008 mortality statistics for women was disturbing. It was almost 50 percent of women died from pregnancy. Somebody would die on their way to the hospital just to give birth, never mind whether they had used contraception or not," Ms Nyambayo said.

Source - Herald