In Freetown, Sierra Leone, one in ten pregnant teenagers dies in pregnancy or around the time of birth*
That’s an alarming statistic – much higher than the already poor statistics for maternal death in the general population. For perspective, in the UK the maternal death rate is roughly 1 in 10,000.
In 2015 we worked with LifeLine Nehemiah Projects to carry out a survey into maternal mortality in Kuntorloh, a poor suburb of Eastern Freetown.
Why are so many pregnant teenagers dying?
Teenage pregnancy is very common in Sierra Leone. Girls are under huge pressure to engage in transactional sex – with teachers for grades, to cover their school fees and to pay for food and clothes.
Teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone also carries huge stigma. When a girl becomes pregnant, she may be abandoned by her family. She may find herself relying for food and shelter on people who mistreat her. She may miss out on important antenatal and delivery care as she is worried she will be treated badly by medical professionals at the clinic. She may become sick and anaemic due to lack of food and pregnancy medication.
In many cases, she will have no one she can trust to look out for her.
How do we know about the problem?
Lucy November, cofounder of 2YoungLives, is a midwife researcher based in London who lived in Sierra Leone for three years. She was concerned about the high rate of maternal and infant death in the local community at Kuntorloh, Freetown.
Working with the team based in Kuntorloh, Lucy conducted a survey to try and understand the scale of the problem. The team were alarmed to discover just how bad the situation was for pregnant teenagers. On the back of this survey, Lucy received funding from Wellbeing of Women to research why teenage pregnancies in Sierra Leone result in so many deaths. Read her research in the publication Reproductive Health
*In a household survey of 1500 births in Kuntorloh, an Eastern suburb of Freetown, carried out by Lifeline Nehemiah Projects.