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Aids is deadly, rigidity deadlier

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By Alick Ponje:

SICHINGA—There is some improvement

The majority of houses in Mangochi North East are grass-thatched, with a few iron sheet-roofed ones sparsely dotting the lakeshore location.

Some of the grass-thatched houses belong to children with children or expecting them.

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It is a common norm in a district which, at 37 percent, has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies and child marriages against the national average of 29 percent.

As dusk creeps in, young couples slip into their bedrooms—darkened spaces for optimal privacy—to carry on what they came together to do.

Talk about the raging pandemic that continues to wreak havoc in many economies is often suboptimal. They would rather wallow in ignorance.

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“But the reality is that this ignorance is significantly spreading HIV and Aids among lakeshore communities. The ignorance is deadlier,” Marko Piriminta of Sub-Traditional Authority (STA) Lulanga in Mangochi North East, states.

At Lulanga Health Centre, which serves at least 140,000 people, the sight of children flooding the maternity wing is common. Most of them are frail, barely standing, while others are brought on rickety wheeled stretchers.

On average, 100 women deliver at the facility every month. Among them are 14-year-olds who believe sex is natural and should not be tampered with using any technology or advocacy.

“There still are those who do not want to hear anything to do with family planning products. They have been sufficiently brainwashed,” Piriminta says.

He also calls to mind that as young couples ignore services that are designed to protect them from HIV and Aids, they become susceptible to more troubles including pregnancy compl icat ions which, sometimes, end their lives.

Some of those who survive live with permanent scars of trauma.

“We have had deaths of young girls who fail to pass through labour complications. You could clearly see that some of the girls are too young to withstand the pregnancies,” Piriminta explains.

A nurse-midwife at Lulanga Health Centre, Victoria Sichinga, acknowledges that uptake of family planning commodities among young people remains low in the facility’s catchment area.

The commonest commodity most young people go for is condoms but some are still stuck with inflexibility and choose to engage in unprotected sex.

In some cultural beliefs of communities in this part of Malawi, sex is what it is— devoid of any material coming between.

“Of course, there is some improvement in the uptake of family planning commodities in general, but most young people do not come here to access them,” Sichinga states.

At the time of our visit to the health centre, there was all evidence that young people are adamant about their resolve to ignore what is meant to protect them.

Two underage girls had just given birth while another was in the labour ward, seemingly in great pain.

Midwives took the risk of helping her deliver, in her precarious condition, because waiting for an ambulance to come and take her to Mangochi District Hospital would even be a riskier option.

The 130 kilometres—with a larger part of the stretch comprising a bumpy earth road—would be too much for a child already in labour agony.

Sichinga is aware that with an average of 100 women, including children, giving birth at the health facility alone every month, resources will not be enough to carter for the growing population.

“Among most young people, the pregnancies are unintended. They don’t plan for them but only find themselves in such conditions after failing to prevent them,” she states.

Ironically, such a community, with high child marriage and teenage pregnancy rates, is only attracting a few entities that are striving to wipe away young people’s aversion to services that can save them.

The areas is hard to reach from Mangochi Boma.

It is only those with a firm resolve to overturn what is a tradition among young people and where they live that find time to visit such locations and offer some hope.

Amref Health Africa in Malawi is one organisation that has been attracted by the increasing cases of child marriages and teenage pregnancies in Mangochi, particularly the district’s north-eastern location where ignorance among young people is reportedly high.

“They need to be reached with various messages bordering on their sexual and reproductive health. Children need to be aware of biological changes in their bodies and what they mean,” the organisation’s Stand up for Adolescents Project Officer, Charlene Chisema, says.

She discerns that most people in STA Lulanga are not aware of legislations like those that direct that children aged 18 and below cannot get married.

If they fall pregnant, the responsible man is supposed to be taken to task. It is defilement.

“The area is along the lake where a lot of fishing activities take place. Girls are attracted to fishermen who entice them with money. Additionally, most children do not go to school,” Chisema says.

She is enthusiastic that her organisation’s interventions, buoyed by others’, will save children who are at risk of contracting HIV, falling pregnant before planning to and entering into marriages before they are mature enough for the unions.

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