Mr Pius Enam Hadzide, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), National Youth Authority (NYA), says Ghana's wealth and destiny are tied to the health and welfare of the Youth.
He said Ghana needed to ensure equal access to Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health Education (SRHE) among the youth, especially the out-of-school segment, to realise her industrialisation vision and attendant improvement in the economic, social and cultural development of the youth.
Mr Hadzide made the comments at a Stakeholders Consultative Meeting on Reproductive Health Education for Out-of-School Young People in Ghana.
The event was organised by the NYA in Partnership with Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG). It brought together stakeholders to develop strategies on how to make SRHE available to out-of-school young people in Ghana.
The CEO said figures from the District Health Information Management System (DHIMS) of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) suggested that 109, 888 teenage pregnancies were recorded in 2020 alone and out of this number, 2, 865 pregnancies were from girls aged between 10 and 14 years, below the age of statutory consent.
He said DHIMS again reported that 555, 575 teenage pregnancies had been recorded between 2016 and 2020 with the corresponding figure amongst girls aged 10 and 14 being 13, 444, thus, on the average, 112, 800 teenage girls got pregnant every year.
Mr Hadzide said the Ghana AIDS Commission revealed last month that 18, 928 new HIV infections were recorded in 2020 and this figure formed part of an existing 342, 307 number of people living with HIV.
"These figures justify the need for the provision of Comprehensive SRHE to the youth. Whereas there remain gaps in the provision of Comprehensive SRHE in Ghanaian Schools, extant research has shown a relationship between schooling and safer sexual behaviors."
"This is because school provides a stable and credible environment where the same group of young people are taught and have their questions and concerns about Sexual and Reproductive Health addressed over a period of time. In contrast, out-of-school youth are prone to misinformation from unreliable sources or may not learn about these issues at all," he said.
He said the 2014 Ghana Health and Demographic Survey reported that people with no education were likelier to have an early age of first sexual encounters compared to those with some level of education.
He said underage pregnant teenage girls faced the heightened risks of premature labor, spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and the development of fistulas and were more likely to suffer maternal mortality.
The CEO said beyond the immediate health risks, there were social and economic implications for teenagers who successfully carried the pregnancy to term, since the teenage parents, especially the girl, may be withdrawn from school, thus losing out on the training needed to be financially secure in the future.
"Further, the consequences of unemployment for out-of-school youth may result in them taking to the streets where they are exposed to experimenting risky behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse."
"Other street kids may partake in sex work. All these behaviours increase the likelihood of sexual abuse and unsafe sexual behaviours which make them vulnerable to STIs and HIV/AIDS infections as well as unwanted pregnancies," he added.
He said a 2017 study conducted jointly by researchers from the University of Cape Coast and the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute suggested that SRHE must cover a range of topics which fit into five major categories namely, Sexual and reproductive physiology, HIV/STI prevention, Contraception and unintended pregnancy, Values and interpersonal skills and Gender and sexual reproductive rights.
Mr Hadzide urged stakeholders to fuse those categories to make them fit into Ghana's context and into a language which was accessible to out-of-school youth and can reach them at whichever level they found themselves.
"Additionally, we must find the means to provide this knowledge to them. In doing so, we may leverage on new technologies, particularly, the internet to disseminate this information in addition to the traditional means used. In that regard, we will be transforming social media from a source of misinformation to one of education," he said.
Madam Victoria Obenewah, Principal Nursing Officer, GHS, advised adolescents to avoid peer influence, desist from substance abuse and alcoholism and beware of bad friends.
Madam Obenewah also cautioned them to be mindful of people closer to them because most rape incidents were carried out by close relatives and friends.
She called for stiffer punishment for rape and incest crimes and urged the media to intensify education on adolescent reproductive health.
The Nursing Officer urged Government, Chiefs and Queen mothers, Opinion leaders, Religious bodies, Non- Governmental Organizations to get involved in adolescent related activities.
She said to promote reproductive health rights of adolescents, quality information on Family Planning and contraceptives should be available and easily accessible.
Madam Obenewah said this would help adolescents to make well informed decisions on their reproductive health.
She urged stakeholders to maintain utmost privacy and confidentiality of adolescents who opened up to them about their issues.
Dr Leticia Adelaide Appiah, Executive Director, National Population Council, said the youth were the most important asset of the nation and urged Government and stakeholders to prioritise young people not just with words but in action.
She said in developing the Comprehensive SRHE, stakeholders should consider the importance of nurturing positive attitudes and values in the youth, including open mindedness, respect for self and others.