Findings of the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS) for 2015/16 have shown that more girls aged between 15 and 19 are having children, contributing to high population growth and rising child and neonatal deaths.
The MDHS, whose main report was launched yesterday in Lilongwe, shows that 29 percent of teenagers had given birth. This figure was four percentage points higher than what was recorded in the last DHS in 2010.
Further, the survey indicates that at least 22 out of every 100 women aged 15 to 19 have given birth while another seven percent were pregnant with their first child at the time of the survey which covered 27 516 households.
United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which funded the survey, has responded by suggesting that birth rates among sexually active people, mostly the youth, would drop if there was provision of access to modern contraceptives and improving quality of sex education for youth.
The results are in direct contrast to the findings of the survey on fertility and use of contraceptives among women which indicated that more women are using modern methods and that the overall fertility rate has gone down.
Socially, this means that the earlier women start having children the higher the population growth as well as increased risk to the lives of the children and their mothers.
The MDHS found that the proportion of women who have started having children was rising in the 15 to 19 age range, from five percent among those aged 15, 27 percent among 17-year-olds and 17 and 59 percent at 19 years of age.
Of the teenagers who had started having children, 54 percent had no education compared with 32 percent who had attained primary education and 19 percent with secondary education.
The findings buttress the popular belief that the more a girl is educated or stays in school, the more likely she will wait before having children.
MDHS also found that teenage pregnancies were more common in rural areas and among women in northern and southern regions
About 32 percent of women in the northern who have started bearing children are aged 15 to 19, just like southern region while the central had lower birth rate among teenagers at 25 percent.
The DHS also indicated that the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has gone down since 1992, from 234 child deaths per 1 000 live deaths to 63 in 2015/16.
However, the reduction still means that approximately one in every 16 children does not survive beyond the age of five.
However, the Ministry of Health has expressed concern at the slow progress on reducing deaths of babies before the first month of life-neonatal mortality—which has gone down from 42 to 27 per 1 000 live births.
In the wake of the rise in teenage pregnancies, there are growing fears that the population growth rate risk jeopardising the gains made in reducing deaths of children and mothers.
Mission director for USAID Littleton Tazewell made an impassionate plea to various stakeholders to make use of the results of the MDHS to inform policy and programmes for the benefit of Malawians.
“The MDHS shows impressive gains in key areas however Malawi’s population growth rate threatens to reverse these gains. We have improved health of mothers and children, we have reduced the mortality rate for children under 5, there are more women using birth control but unfortunately, population growth is outpacing economic and with a projected 41.2 million population by 2050, this is jeopardising the gains reflected in DHS,” he said.
Tazewell said it was time every stakeholder aggressively engaged youth especially adolescent girls and young women to accelerate the decline of population growth.
Launching the report, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe asked the stakeholders not to just look at the statistics, but the impact the findings could have in informing policies and interventions.
He said: “We need to look at what we could do more and where we are failing. It is not enough to just attend meetings, get documents and throw them away but at the same time it should be emphasised where we are doing well.”
The MDHS is a collection of data at national level which calculates key demographic indicators, particularly fertility and under-5 and adult mortality rates among others.
For the first time, MDHS looked at levels of women empowerment, malaria, micronutrient levels, nutrition and domestic violence.