Experts Decry High Mortality Rates of Under 15 in Sub-Saharan Africa

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– Advocate stiffer penalties for violators of children’s rights

With about 6.3 million deaths of under 15 in 2017, 60 per cent of which occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa countries, including Nigeria, medical experts have declared that unless drastic measures are taken urgently to address causes of mortality in adolescents, there may be no future for the worst affected countries.

The experts, who raised the alarm at a conference jointly organised by the University of Ibadan Research Foundation; the Special Thematic Working Group on Maternal, Neonatal, Children and Women Health (STWG-MNCWH) and the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), identified some preventable diseases and practices causing the spike in adolescent mortality to include diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria, typhoid, drug abuse, adolescent pregnancy and child marriage.

They further called on fellow scientists from the over 150 universities in Nigeria, religious leaders, community leaders, and governments at all levels, to deploy all resources at their disposal towards reducing the scourge of adolescent mortality.

L-R: Director General, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Prof. Babatunde Salako; Dr Jide Idris, former commissioner for health, Lagos State; and Prof. Oluwatoyin A. Odeku, dean of Pharmacy Faculty, University of Ibadan, at a conference recently held at NIMR, Yaba, Lagos.

Speaking on the topic, “Adolescent Health and Education: Meeting the Rights”, the keynote speaker at the conference, Prof. Ademola Ajuwon of the Department of Health Education and Promotion, University of Ibadan, x-rayed the various health hazards that adolescents are exposed to, which she said often arose from negligence and lack of adequate care from their parents or guardians.

Citing teenage pregnancy as leading hazard for adolescents, Ajuwon noted that this accounted for the disheartening statistics by the World Health Organisation, which says about 16 million girls, aged 15-19 years and 2.5 million under 16 years give birth each year in developing regions, while about 3.9 million girls aged 15-19 years undergo unsafe abortions, with half of pregnancies among 15 -19 years old girls in developing regions being estimated to be unwanted.

Ajuwon further explained that, aside from adolescent pregnancy, child marriage is also a major practice that jeopardises the health of adolescents, stating, “One of every seven girls in the developing world is forced to marry by the time she is 14 years old. And she is five times more likely to die in childbirth than a young woman in her twenties. She is more likely to be beaten, threatened, and infected with HIV by her husband than a girl who married later.”

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The health expert subsequently called on the National Assembly to legislate stiffer penalties for paedophiles and rapists.

In her words, “The government has its own role to play, in promoting child’s right laws and policies in the country. There should be some legislations made on this case, to ensure laws that will protect these children and give a stiffer punishment to deter abusers of children from such habit, as present fines are so mild.

“For instance, if punishment for raping a minor is 10 years imprisonment without bail option, I think that will be a stronger deterrent for rapists. Apart from that, the rapist is also to be made to ensure that the affected girl child goes to school, while he pays for the girl’s school fees up to any level the child desires. I’m sure by the time such a law is passed, a lot of men will think twice before embarking on such evil acts.”

Former Commissioner for Health in Lagos State, Dr Jide Idris, who was the chairman of the event’s Organising Committee, noted that the age group under consideration, 0-25, constitutes 65 per cent of the nation’s population, stressing that once this group’s health is affected, the health of the nation is in jeopardy.

He highlighted the mission of STWG, which he said include: agreeing on the asset base of the nation for positive health outcomes; effecting options on what available data show; reflecting community aspirations and potential impacts of action; as well as delivering policy briefs to guide actions.

Idris also enjoined researchers in the country to always endeavour to summarise their research outcomes into concise formats for policy makers to act on, noting that since the latter do not read journals, such brief statements will enable them to translate such findings into policies for the benefits of the populace.

In his welcome address, the DG NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako, appreciated the participants, including students and researchers from over 10 secondary schools selected from Lagos and Oyo states.

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He warned parents and guardians to be careful about the freedom they allow teenagers to enjoy, stating that corruption, insecurity, moral decadence and other societal ills are at the zenith among the age group.

“Teenagers and adolescents should not be left to too much freedom, because we see them as leaders of tomorrow, and with the several challenges around us today, their future may be affected if they are not well guided and tutored”, he cautioned.

Dr Charles Owosisi, health specialist, UNICEF Nigeria, highlighted the rights of a child as contained in the Child’s Rights Convention (CRC), stating that any child less than 18 years needs to be aware of his right and demand for it, adding that this will enhance societal respect for these rights.

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