The  World AIDS Day 2021 commemoration focused on multi-sectoral approaches aimed at reducing incidences of teenage pregnancies and Sex and gender based violence and factors leading to increased New HIV infections among young people in Kenya. Special attention was  given to activities focused on keeping the girl child in school and to promote their transition into secondary school.

Why the focus on teenage pregnancy?

Teenage pregnancy  remains a major challenge to socio-economic development as it deprives  young girls of the opportunity to further their education and attain their career goals. Teenage pregnancy further exposes young girls and their children to major health risks, including the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as well as  increasing the risks of premature birth, low birth weight, and perinatal death. According to World Health Organisation, “pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15–19 years globally.” The combined impact of early motherhood and HIV is particularly challenging.. Girls who are tested and newly diagnosed with HIV during ANC have to cope with a pregnancy confirmation, a positive HIV diagnosis, initiation onto lifetime treatment and potentially HIV and pregnancy-related stigma, among other challenges. When compared with older women, adolescent and young mothers fair poorer at various points along with the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) continuum, including high unmet demand for contraception, lower rates of retention in HIV care and treatment and higher new infections of HIV during pregnancy and breastfeeding, posing risks to their health and increasing the likelihood of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

What is data telling us?

While the Kenya Government committed during the ICPD 25 to end teenage pregnancy by 2030, the vice remains rampant and needs to remain at the top of the government’s agenda for a lasting solution. In the year 2019, Kenya Health Information System (KHIS) showed 28% (399,028) of all pregnancies registered were among adolescents aged 10-19, a third of which occurred in nine counties, namely, Nairobi (26,545), Kakamega (17,555), Nakuru (16,502), Meru (15,826), Narok (14,962), Bungoma (14,512), Kiambu (13,562) Homabay (13,644) and Kwale (11,251). As of 2020, adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) aged 15-24 years contributed to 30% of new HIV infections in the country, which is partly associated with teenage pregnancies and sexual and other forms of gender-based violence and non-transition from primary to secondary school.

Call to Action

There is an urgent need to address the systemic drivers of this potential pandemic to protect the country’s young girls from teenage pregnancies and gender-based violence. The Kenya AIDS Strategic Framework II identifies the reduction of teenage pregnancies and gender-based inequalities as multi-sectoral approaches to addressing the HIV epidemic. As a country, we must continue to address the multiple and layered cultural, religious, and socio-economic factors that contribute to teenage pregnancy.