Teen Pregnancies Create Health Challenges in Cameroon

Two-month-old Pride Nalova cries as her mother slaughters and roasts chicken in a restaurant in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde. Beatrice Nalova, the baby’s 15-year-old mother, says she was forced to drop out of school when her mother found out that she was pregnant.

“When she took me to a nearby hospital, the doctor found out that I was six months pregnant,” Beatrice said. “My mother hid it from my father and tried to evacuate the pregnancy. It did not work. At last I gave birth, and my father was surprised that I was pregnant and drove me out of the house. He said it was something like bad luck in the family. I left and stayed with my aunt.”

Beatrice was a student at Government Bilingual High School Nkol Eton in Yaounde. Philemon Enonchong, the vice principal, said the school does not allow pregnant girls to study alongside their peers in the school.

“When we discover that a student is pregnant, we advise the parents to come and take the child back home,” Enonchong said. “We would not just drive the child away or create a scene. When it is time for exams, then this child can come and write.”

Teen pregnancy abounds

The Cameroon Medical Council reports that 25 percent of pregnancies occur in girls of school age, and 20 percent of pregnant teens do not return to school.

Dr. Ndansi Elvis Noka of the Unite for Health Foundation, a group that strives to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions, said the council’s figures might be low, because less than 30 percent of the population visits conventional health services.

“Their fear is that of parental ostracization, like, ‘My mom is going to kill me, my dad is going to slaughter me. What are my friends going to think about me?’ The 25 percent is what government has identified based on those who have already overcome the fear of parents, the fear of friends, the fear of teachers.”

Contraceptives are still taboo in most communities, and poverty levels are still very high, forcing many girls into prostitution. The country’s demographic health survey adds that traditional practices that encourage early marriages, especially in the Muslim-dominated northern regions, are also responsible for teenage pregnancies.

Psychologist Mireille Ndje Ndje said the increase in teenage pregnancies also is linked to increased communication and interaction between people. This is a period, she said, when the world is a global village and people can communicate at all moments, wherever they are. She sad adolescent girls have a greater challenge because they are exposed to the Internet and social media, which have videos that entice them to try having sexual relations.

Childbirth complications

Gynecologist Vivian Verbe Sale of Cameroon’s Ministry of Health said severe bleeding, infections and high blood pressure before and after birth are some complications that cause death during childbirth among girls under age 15. She did not have statistics on how many teenagers die while giving birth.

“When a little girl gets pregnant at that age,” Sale said, “she is likely to have what we call an obstructed labor because of the small pelvis. And because of that, if she is not having the baby in a center where the staff is qualified to identify that on time to do a C-section to save the baby, she will likely have what we call vesicovaginal fistula” — a resulting abnormal passage between the bladder and vagina that allows continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault.

The World Health Organization says teenage pregnancies constitute a serious health and social problem worldwide, with most of them occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

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