It appears Sierra Leoneans will have more than just the staggering number of people who died during the recent outbreak of Ebola to remember as one of the unpleasant legacies of the epidemic.
The outbreak which virtually brought life in the west African country to a standstill, also left in its wake a growing number of young expectant mothers.
Teenage pregnancy is not a particularly new phenomenon in Sierra Leone, but the outbreak of what was a deadly epidemic led to a doubling of a situation the country has had to grapple with for some time.
There was an Ebola breakout so most of them were at home. They never go to school so there was a problem. There was no school at that time so everything was just upside down.
“The teenage pregnancy is very high. More when the Ebola breakout was. There was an Ebola breakout so most of them were at home. They never go to school so there was a problem. There was no school at that time so everything was just upside down. So everybody was doing – more the teenagers – they were just roaming about socializing,” explained Josephine Samba, a Midwife at the Princess Christian Maternity hospital in Freetown.
The hospital’s outpatient department is often filled with pregnant girls, some as young as 15 years, competing for space and medical attention with more matured pregnant women.
What health officials find most disturbing is the apparent lack of knowledge on the part of the girls about their reproductive health.
Louise Nordstrom, a Swedish midwife working with the UNFPA in Sierra Leone told AFP about her encounter with one of such girls.
“I asked her if she knew she was pregnant. ‘Would it be possible that you were pregnant?’ And she didn’t really respond. But you could kind of sense that yes, she probably knew she was pregnant. Soon after she went to pee in a bed pan and out came the dead foetus.”
Nordstrom deduced from the incident that the young girl had taken matters into her own hand.
“It was very obvious she had been taking some drugs at home, she knew she was pregnant, she was afraid and didn’t want to have the baby so she induced an abortion herself.”
But health officials are not glossing over the the dangers associated with teenagers becoming pregnant.
“Sometimes their pelvis are not prepared enough to accomodate a particular child so it can end up having caesarian sections. Some of them come with foetal distress and foetal demise with the pregnancy” explained Alimamy Philip Koroma, one of Sierra Leone’s top Principal obstetricians.
He adds that some of the teenage expectant mothers “don’t even come to the ante-natal clinic, they stay at home because of fear of their colleagues not to see them. So they stay until complication arrives. When they come around they even induce them to deliver at home, they only come here when they are obstructed.”
The surge in teenage pregnancies also means more girls dropping out of school, a development which is certain to have a negative impact on the future of a country recovering from war and a devastating Ebola outbreak.