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Fight over providing birth pills to teens continues 

The war of words between government officials over disagreements on whether teenagers should be given contraceptives is not about to come to an end.

On Tuesday this week, while at the National Conference on Unsafe Abortions at Hotel Africana, Prof Anthony Mbonye, the director general of health services at the ministry of health; told stakeholders that he was ready to be sacked but he insists that contraceptives must be provided to teenagers as one of the measures to tame unwanted pregnancies.  

But just a day later, Joyce Moriku Kaducu, his senior and state minister for Primary Health-Care says there will be no provision of contraceptives to girls aged below 18 years.

While Mbonye argues that his senior officials including Health minister Ruth Aceng are burying their heads in the sand, by not acknowledging that teenagers are sexually active and need to guard against unwanted pregnancies, Kaducu notes that providing contraceptives is one of the main drivers of the current high HIV prevalence rates in the country.

Joyce Moriku Kaducu, state minister for primary health care

She explains that because of having no fear of getting pregnant due to easy access of birth control pills, more youth have neglected using condoms and have thus ended up contracting the HIV virus.

According to statistics from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 360 girls and young women are infected with HIV every week in Uganda. UNFPA also notes that Uganda experiences high teenage pregnancy rates with one in four young girls either pregnant or having given birth by the age of 19.  

Speaking on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting to discuss Sexual Reproductive Health Rights and HIV (SRHR/HIV) and Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) integration, Kaducu said government's emphasis was on abstinence and not provision of contraceptives.

She explained that government too was alarmed by the high teenage pregnancies and HIV infection rates among youths and would counter the challenges with educating the youths on reproductive and sexual rights according to the age brackets but not providing birth control pills.

"Contraceptives are for married couples, after explaining to them the concept of husband and wife then they can choose the method they want to use. Even if you give a young person, contraceptives, it doesn't stop them from getting HIV, STIs," said Kaducu.

"We can reduce pregnancies without giving contraceptives to the girls", she added.

She further argued that there was need for parents to teach good morals to their children and tell them to abstain from sex. Kaducu observed that religious leaders need to play their role on guiding communities and not leaving the entire burden to government.

Opening both the regional and national meetings, Kaducu revealed that the ministry with support from UN agencies had revised the SRHR/HIV integration strategy and would implement it country-wide.

She urged district health officers (DHOs) in attendance to list their priorities in line with SRHR/HIV integration and present them to the funders and ensure that they are priotised in the district development plans.

"I strongly recommend that the time for integration pilot projects in Uganda is over. It's now time for the tough work and get everyone into scale-up mode all across the country. We need to move the integration agenda forward and get out  the business as usual mode," Kaducu told the DHOs on Wednesday at Imperial Botanical Beach in Entebbe.

Ever since the adoption of the National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights last month, there is a big rift between the political and technical wing in the Health ministry.

One major point of contention in the policy, is provision of contraceptives to under age girls. While the technical wing supports the move, the political wing is against it. The policy notes that females aged 15-49 can access contraceptives.

The technical wing was accused of "smuggling" into the guidelines, a clause urging for the provision of contraceptives to all sexually active groups including teenagers.

Mbonye says that provision of contraceptives to teenagers has been researched on world over proven to curb down unwanted pregnancies among teenagers and Uganda can not choose to act different until it carries out its own research to prove otherwise. The guidelines are currently under review and have since been stayed by government.

Last month, First Lady and education minister Janet Museveni attacked unnamed government officials of priotising love for material gains and losing all pride by accepting practices alien to the African cultures and society. She said in the African culture, sex is only allowed between adults.

At Entebbe, health experts from over 10 East and Southern Africa countries met to share experiences and lessons from the recently-concluded first pilot SRHR integration linkage project and pave a way forward on how to consolidate their gains.

Rwanda, Botswana and Namibia are some of the countries that were commended for their efforts to integrate SHRH/HIV, and SGBV interventions into their development programmes.

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© 2016 Observer Media Ltd