One in five teenage pregnancies is terminated, according to the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) and abortion has become "a contraceptive method" for many teenagers, said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Motsoaledi was speaking during the launch of a new contraceptive implant in Tembisa on Thursday.
The device, Implanon, a match-stick sized implant, will be available for women in all public health facilities by June. Motsoaledi said this will increase the choice of contraceptives already available to women including condoms, intrauterine contraceptive devices (devices inserted via the vagina into the uterus), oral and injectable contraceptives.
The Implanon. (Picture released by the department of health)
"Too many young girls and women fall pregnant and have premature babies," he said.
Teen moms deliver 80 000 of the one million babies born in South Africa every year.
"These young pregnant women also have a much higher chance of dying from pregnancy related hypertension. All this adds up to one thing: young girls should not get pregnant," he said.
According to Howard Mayonga from WRHI, once inserted under the skin of the upper arm the implant prevents pregnancy for three years "or until the woman decides she is ready to start a family".
"There is no going back and forth to the clinic every month or remembering to take a pill every day. Once you put it in you forget about it for three years."
Fertility returns immediately
He said that fertility returns immediately after removing the device, "unlike with injectable contraceptives where the delay can be up to a year".
The device costs R1 700 in the private sector but all women, even those who usually use private healthcare, can get it for free at a government facility.
However, deputy director general at the national health department Yogan Pillay warns: "As much as this protects women from falling pregnant, it does not protect them from contracting HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Therefore women must still use condoms after inserting the subdermal implant."
Deputy Minister of Economic Development Hlengiwe Mkhize said: "We are endorsing this initiative and hoping it will go a long way. Some of the recent problems that we heard about young women who bury children, who dumped them, it really talks to the social crisis of people who you know almost like breeding children like chickens prematurely."
Ramatamo Sehoai is a Bhekisisa fellow.