The Ministry of Health and Wellness is currently carrying out a baseline assessment of select risk factors of pregnancy among high-school students in eastern Jamaica.
“This has come about because of a study we did in 2014 looking at the operation of the Victoria Jubilee Hospital teen clinic, and the findings suggested that the eastern part of the island and the west have a high prevalence rate in teenage pregnancy,” Manager of the Adolescent Unit in the Ministry, Joy Chambers, informed.
“So, we have just started and we hope that the findings can help us to put together those interventions that can mitigate further teenage pregnancy,” she said.
Ms. Chambers was speaking recently at The Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) virtual annual lecture on adolescent pregnancy, which was this year named in honour of the Centre’s first National Director, Pamela McNeill.
In the meantime, Executive Director of the National Family Planning Board, Lovette Byfield, said that the agency’s Technical Support to Reduce Teenage Pregnancy Programme has been adversely impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19), and as a result, the Board has asked for the programme to be extended to December 2021.
The initiative, which is funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, commenced in 2019, and is aiming to reduce adolescent pregnancy rates in Jamaica, impact adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) behaviour among boys and girls, increase public awareness of ASRH issues, as well as increase access to sexual and reproductive health services and commodities for adolescents.
Under the programme, contraceptive commodities, including long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as Jadelle and the intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD), will be provided to 500 adolescent mothers, and public awareness sessions on ASRH) issues will also be conducted.
It was initially formulated to benefit teens in the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine, St Ann, St James, and Clarendon, which have the highest teenage prevalence rate, but the programme has since been extended to St. Thomas, Hanover, Trelawny, and Portland.
According to Ms. Byfield, who was also a speaker at the lecture, a key objective of the programme is to prevent repeat pregnancy among teen mothers.
But, she said, the programme is experiencing some challenges as the recruitment of the girls, as well as the scheduling of their clinic dates for the contraception method, have been affected by COVID-19.
“The recruitment of the girls is really done through community outreach and a lot of community activities, and COVID has restricted the ability of our community health aides and other outreach workers to do this kind of recruitment,” Ms. Byfield said.
She noted that their health providers are involved in COVID-related activities, and so being available to schedule for the girls to do their insertion is being challenged.
But, she said, the Board has asked for an extension and is hoping that it will be able to meet its goal of reaching 500 teen mothers to ensure that they don’t have a repeat pregnancy.
“And that is an important intervention to interrupt the cycle of the mothers having two, three and four children and not being able to provide for them adequately,” Ms. Byfield noted.
She said that 56 health professionals have been trained under the programme and an ASRH training manual and toolkit were completed.
The programme also provides condoms and pregnancy tests to adolescents in the participating parishes and has launched a media campaign, utilising traditional and social media platforms, to help in the reduction of teen pregnancy.
Along with that initiative, Ms. Byfield said the Board also has a school-based intervention programme called ‘Hold on, Hold Off’, which addresses risks among adolescents, including pregnancy.
The programme, she explained, “is basically saying wait, delay, learn more about yourself, set your goals and wait; when you are at that stage then you can become pregnant”.
This is accompanied by an out-of-school intervention programme that engages adolescents in an informal setting called ‘chill spot’ via social media and popular music and culture to ‘edutain’ them about adolescent pregnancy and prevention.