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technology 25 Nov 2019

Linda Kesho: How the Ida Odinga Trust alleviates Teenage Pregnancy Crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Peter Ongalo

Linda Kesho is a recently launched nationwide campaign by the ODM leader Raila Odinga’s wife, Dr. Ida Odinga to mitigate on the lately up surging teenage pregnancies and child marriages in the country. The initiative was first launched in two Counties, Kisumu and Siaya in July, with recent reports revealing that Kisumu County alone had recorded more than 3,500 teenage pregnancies from the time the country was hit by the pandemic in mid-March to June.

Photo Credits:Ida Odinga Trust.

The continuous rising number of teenage pregnancies and child marriages is definitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic which brought them the unlimited freedom due to the indefinite closure of schools. Giving a statement on the closure of schools due to the pandemic, Mama Ida said it is already alarming that the numbers of reported pregnancies nationwide have skyrocketed during the initial phase of the lockdown, adding that it may get worse if nothing is done to save the situation.

“I am deeply concerned with the possible and projected sexual health risks and challenges posed by the closure of schools for the academic year 2020 while at the same time recognizing its intention.,” she said.

“Data in my possession states that yearly, about 300,000 school-going age girls get impregnated and two per cent of the same never gets back to school. An extrapolation of this with the dynamic situation we are in may spell something scarier than before.”

She noted that there is a real risk that sexual and reproductive health and rights will be deprioritized, with devastating consequences for girls and women at large due to the pandemic.

According to Teenage Pregnancy Situation in Kenya by the National Council on Population and Development, one in five girls aged between 15 and 19 get pregnant. Very recently, over a period of three months (between April and July), due to COVID-19 19, close to 152,000 Kenyan teenage girls became pregnant – a 40 percent increase in the country’s monthly average.

With this comes in the Linda Kesho: Protect Our Girls Initiative, a product of the Mama Ida Odinga Trust, which has been actively trying to manage this crisis.

“The Mama Ida Odinga Trust involves each and every county with more focus on those with significant numbers through the offices of the 1st ladies to run the county chapters. For instance, Kisumu and Siaya counties are led by their respective 1st ladies Dorothy Nyong’o and Rassela Rasanga respectively.” Said Mr. Odhiambo Otieno, A Mama Ida Odinga Trust representative.

“We have realized from the young girls and boys that most parents have absconded the basic parental role of educating their children about reproductive health.” He explained further.

The Linda Kesho task force is composed of trained youths, who get to tour various wards especially, the ones with high rates of teenage pregnancies and early marriages. They then engage Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) in the wards to help the team achieve a fruitful campaign. Each campaign is designed to have 80 girls, 20 boys and 10 parents as facilitators.

Photo Credits:Ida Odinga Trust.

Thereafter, a proper discussion is tabled including interactive sessions amongst all these stakeholders. The discussion is about, abstinence, sexual reproductive health, Self-awareness, focus education on family value and health consequences of teenage pregnancies.

Linda Kesho challenges parents to create a safe space for the girls so that they can feel free to talk about matters like the body changes, relationships, academics and co-curriculum activities.

“The time is now when we should have the one talk to understand these children, parents need to confront these issues as they are. To create a conducive environment for them, every responsible parent should guide their children through the right networks that are safe for them.”

The campaign is not only advocating for the mitigation of teenage pregnancies and child marriages. It is also aiming at ensuring that the young mothers who are the victims, are given right to education by supporting them return to school after having a child.

“We have been to all the 35 and 29 wards in Kisumu and Siaya counties respectively with the very message. We are really encouraged by the feedback we get. Needless to say, that this campaign is impacting knowledge on the girls and boys. Sooner or later, the same will be seen in all the 47 counties, that’s the target.” Odhiambo said.

Unfortunately, most of the girls are not aware of the health effects of teenage pregnancies. Obstetric fistula, a medical condition in which a hole develops in the birth canal as a result of childbirth is among the severe complications that are common to adolescent mothers. According to the WHO, complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth are already the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 globally. Linda Kesho has experts who sensitize the girls on the health implications.

Mama Ida Odinga through Linda Kesho sensitization campaign calls on the young girls and boys to abstain and focus on education. Parents should stand up and protect the girls against teenage pregnancies which lead to early marriages.

We appreciate Mama Ida Odinga Trust for creating a safe space for the girl child. Only through education can we empower girls to change the world.