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Teen pregnancies rise in Malawi amid coronavirus pandemic

Reproductive health services have taken a backseat to the global coronavirus pandemic and in Malawi unwanted pregnancies and marriages have increased.   -  
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Eliza Majuri is 17 years old and one of the thousands of teenagers in Malawi who has fallen pregnant during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Oxfam, the town of Phalombe alone has registered 2,784 cases of teen pregnancies and 800 child marriages since March when schools closed.

Eliza said she was lured into a relationship with a married man in March.

"At the time he proposed, he committed to marrying me if I got pregnant and that we would be living together," she said.

But he left her when she told him she was expecting.

Many girls in her situation are pushed into marriage. But Eliza is fending for herself and does not have enough food or other essentials.

With health services focusing on COVID-19 patients, attention has been diverted from sexual and reproductive services.

Oxfam has also identified an increase in cases in Machinga-east Malawi, where there are 418 teen pregnancies and 285 child marriages.

In Mangochi district 7,274 teen pregnancies have been recorded.

Malawi Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Dr Charles Mwansambo said in 2020 there has been an increase in pregnancies between the ages of ten and 19 compared to the previous year.

"That's 29 out of every 100 pregnancies in young ones between the ages of ten and 19 and if you look at the same period this year in 2020, that has increased to 35% which means that out of every 100 pregnancies 35 are between the ages of 10 and 19," he said.

Matilda Matiya, who leads a mothers group team of women that is mediating a process to have Eliza return to her parents for assistance, said services were available in the area but were not accessed by many girls.

"Family planning methods are available in our area but because they are found at a distance from here, most girls do not access them," Matiya said.

Poverty cycle

Many other African countries and other parts of the world have reported a rise in teen pregnancies during the pandemic.

Research conducted United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along with Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University in the United States, and Victoria University in Australia and released in April predicted globally there could be seven million unintended pregnancies during the global pandemic.

This was a result of limited access to modern contraceptives if lockdowns and disruptions to health services were to continue for six months, the research concluded.

UNFPA also predicted an increase in cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation due to lockdowns.

The rise in teen pregnancies means a girl's education is disrupted.

"The future is the young people today and we have to invest in these young people. So, if they fall pregnant it means their future has been disturbed, and if they fall pregnant today at 14, how is their life going to be? So, the poverty cycle continues," Olive Mtema, Country Director for Health Policy Plus Malawi said.

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