Protecting the Next Generation in Ghana: New Evidence on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs
Laura Hessburg,Akwasi Kumi-Kyereme,Joana O. Nerquaye-Tetteh,Francis Yankey,Ann BiddlecomandMelanie Croce-Galis
The sexual and reproductive health of adolescents is gradually becoming one of the top priorities for policymakers around the world. Since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, numerous countries and organizations have attempted to improve the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents, in many cases as part of a strategy to improve the quality of overall health and to facilitate socioeconomic development. According to the World Health Organization, poor sexual and reproductive health accounts for one-third of the global burden of disease among women of reproductive age (15–44), and for one-fifth of the burden of disease among the population overall.1(p.9) The need for sexual and reproductive health services—and thus the potential benefit of addressing this need—is greatest in the world’s poorest nations. In developing countries, meeting the need for contraceptive services would reduce the number of unplanned births by 72% and the number of induced abortions by 64%.1(p.20) The AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa provides a vivid illustration of the devastating impact that poor reproductive health outcomes have on populations. Almost two-thirds of all persons with HIV live in Sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly half of the two million new infections each year among young people occur in Sub-Saharan Africa.2(p.3) Although Ghana has not been as severely affected by the epidemic as some other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, HIV nonetheless poses a significant problem for the country’s health and socioeconomic development. In 2005, the estimated prevalence of HIV in Ghana among adults was 2.3%; among 15–24-year-olds, the prevalence was 1.3% for females and 0.2% for males.2 Moreover, although the median ages at which Ghanaians first have sex, marry and give birth have increased among younger generations,3 early childbirth and unwanted pregnancy remain common. In the 2003 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey, more than one-third of women aged 20–24 reported that they had given birth before age 20.3(p.62) According to findings from the 2004 National Survey of Adolescents, the majority of women aged 15–19 who were pregnant or had already given birth would have preferred to delay their pregnancy.4(p.78) One reason that many young women wish to delay childbearing is that doing so affords them an opportunity to pursue educational and economic opportunities. Thus, to promote Ghana’s socioeconomic development, the sexual and reproductive health of the country’s adolescents needs to be a component of national development goals.