Deaths among neonates (newborn babies who are less than four weeks old) born to adolescent mothers were twice that of babies born to older mothers aged between 20 to 29 years in the three East African Countries Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda according to a new study published in the Global Health Action journal.
The Neonatal Mortality Rate (NMR) was two times higher (26.6 versus 12.0 deaths per 1000 live births) among adolescents than among older mothers.
Some of the factors that determined the survival of babies within the 28-day period after birth include newborn sex, antenatal care visits, postnatal care visits, wealth status, parity, birthweight, and marital status.
When the researchers made a comparison of the death rates between babies born to adolescent mothers and older mothers who had unintended pregnancies, the hazard of neonatal deaths among adolescent mothers was over 2.5-fold higher than that among older mothers.
In addition, the highest (four-fold) hazard of neonatal death was among adolescent mothers who had unintended pregnancies in marital union.
The study also found that about 50% of all adolescent mothers, 15–19 years old, had their first sexual encounter at 15 years old or below compared to 28% among older mothers, 20–29 years old, in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In Tanzania, there was a slightly higher proportion of an early sexual debut compared to Kenya.
Three quarters of (76.5%) of of adolescent mothers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania lived in rural areas, as compared to 69% of older mothers.
This study which was conducted by researchers from Sweden led by Malachi Ochieng Arunda was probably the first of its kind in East Africa where neonatal death rates have been persistently high at 20–22 per 1000 live births between 2014 and 2020.
Cross-sectional data from demographic and health surveys in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania between the years 2014–2016 were used in the analysis.
The researchers recommended full implementation of existing adolescent health policies and utilization of contraceptives, partnership with youths and novel efforts that address sociocultural norms to reduce adolescent pregnancies or marriage and regulations requiring adolescents’ obstetric care conducted by only skilled personnel should be introduced and implemented.