THE Health ministry has come hard on pharmacists that deny adolescent girls access to Emergency Contraception (EC), known as the morning-after pill, as teenage pregnancies were on the rise.
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
Pharmacy logistics and research officer in the Health ministry, Witness Hussain, on Friday said the ministry recently conducted a cross-sectional study of more than 6 000 adolescent girls, which concluded that among other contributing factors, rendering of contraception was a challenge.
Speaking at the Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe annual pharmacists’ indaba (API) in Victoria Falls, Hussain said the 15 to 19-year age group was the most affected.
“We need to change the current attitudes of pharmacists on EC because we established that 50% would not give the pill to that child. Eighty percent of the pharmacists whose views were sought told us that awareness and easy rendering can lead to increased uptake and irresponsibility, but we say, do not punish the buyer, let them purchase the EC and I should repeat, there should not be special treatment,” he said.
“All women are equal. Some view people who take morning-after [pill] as being loose. If you deny them, the consequences may be too hard on them as many revealed that they got chased away from home, face abandonment by the impregnator, sometimes leading to suicide or abortion.
“Maternal child mortality is at 10%, which are still births and premature births, because that child’s pelvic area wouldn’t have developed fully to carry a child, so give the girls an EC. It has no harm and also refer that girl child to other healthcare providers for continuing family planning and sexually transmitted infections management and HIV.”
Hussain spoke at length on how pharmacists could contribute to protecting the girl child by maintaining adequate stocks, creating a welcoming environment and offering counselling services.
“We can only change the behaviour by engaging, not shunning them,” he said
The logistics and research officer said child pregnancies were still high, mainly in rural areas such as Binga due to religious and traditional beliefs, stigmatisation, lack of harmonisation of law, that is, age of consent.
Lack of knowledge, poverty, peer pressure, sexual abuse, family background and death of both parents were other contributing factors they found during the research.
Early this year, deputy director for reproductive health in the Health ministry, Margret Nyandoro, urged women not to use the morning-after pill for birth control because continued use of the drug had devastating side effects, which she said could cause complications in pregnancy. The remarks were necessitated by a spike in the demand for EC.
Pharmacists at the conference, which ended on Saturday, said they were faced with acute drug shortages for chronic diseases such as diabetes as lack of foreign currency aggravated the situation.