by Ronald Ssekandi
ADJUMANI, Uganda, July 11 (Xinhua) -- Fatuma Modong, a South Sudanese refugee in the northern Ugandan district of Adjumani, has had two miscarriages in less than six months.
Modong told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday at Mungula Health Center IV, where she has been admitted, that she had a miscarriage in February and the health workers advised her not to get pregnant until six months later.
Three months later, however, Modong got pregnant after her husband declined to heed the medical advice.
"I told my husband we go for family planning, but he refused. I have explained to him the situation (I) am going through, but he has refused to understand," Modong said, lying on her hospital bed.
Modong is among thousands of women in Uganda who are trapped by negative social norms that prevent them from engaging in family planning.
Dennis Mayamba, a midwife at the health center, told Xinhua that he personally spoke to Modong's husband but the appeal did not work.
Many men in Uganda do not want to engage in family planning, and believe that women should give birth to as many children as possible, Mayamba said.
Dulu Angel Mark, a legislator, told a press conference held here ahead of World Population Day on Thursday that some communities believe they should produce more children because their population is small compared to other tribes in the country.
Experts argue that the situation is compounded by the increasing number of teenage pregnancies. Although it is illegal, some communities still practice child marriages. Girls who are raped are forced by their parents to get married to their tormentors.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a majority of adolescent females in Uganda have an unmet need for family planning. The young girls do not have the means, accessibility, right information and good quality services that prevent them from getting pregnant.
The UNFPA said that half of the adolescent pregnancies are unintended at birth and a third of the pregnancies end up in unsafe abortions. This explains why a third of the maternal deaths in the country involve young girls.
"This is something very important, because when we talk about empowering young people, we stop teenage pregnancies so that a girl who does not want to be pregnant can finish school ... and can plan their family with their partner if and when they want," said Alain Sibenaler, UNFPA representative in Uganda.
Uganda is grappling with a high population growth rate. Figures by the National Population Council (NPC), a state agency that advises the government on population issues, show that the country has a population growth rate of 3.3 percent per annum, ranking third in the world.
The country's population, currently at 40 million, is projected to reach 75 million people by 2040. Over 78 percent of the population are youths below the age of 30, according to the NPC.
John Ssekamatte, a consultant with Uganda's National Planning Authority, said Uganda has to address the challenge posed by high population growth to achieve its aspiration of attaining upper middle income status by 2040.
"For us to achieve that, we must meaningfully engage the population as a productive force," Ssekamatte said.
Other experts argued that if a large number of youths cannot find jobs and earn satisfactory income, they are likely to become a potential source of social and political instability.
Jessica Ababiku, an Adjumani woman member of the parliament, argued that there is a need to design a holistic approach towards family planning. Religious and cultural beliefs that the locals have must be integrated in the family planning campaigns, she said.
She said sensitization must start at the family level, with parents being warned of the dangers of child marriages.
The UNFPA said that family planning sensitization should continue, noting that empowering women to choose the number, timing and spacing of their pregnancies is not only a matter of health and human rights, but also touches on many multi-sectoral determinants vital to sustainable development.
"Family planning saves money. For every additional U.S. dollar spent on providing family planning services in Uganda, more than three dollars would be saved in pregnancy-related medical care," it said.
It added that women who have fewer children have more time to earn wages outside the home, which boosts family income and reduces poverty.
Some women have started heeding the call of family planning even when their husbands do not want them to.
Mayamba said that when some women secretly come for family planning services at the health center, "we give them the method they want."