The wider use of contraceptive methods within the East Africa region is still undermined by underlying cultural beliefs that glorify large families, health officials said during the 5th Eastern Africa Reproductive Health Network (EARHN) summit.
The three day meet that went underway in Kigali yesterday, attracted over 50 health officials from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi and DRC to exchange information on how to strengthen family planning strategies.
"In Uganda and some other neighbouring countries, traditional culture recognises polygamous families. This has made it hard to promote family planning methods like child spacing because nobody wants to be ridiculed," Omar Ductoor Muwonge, the District Chairperson of Mayuge District in Uganda said.
"If we are to successfully implement these practices and to lower the mortality rate, we must start from the grassroots and sensitise the people about why they must prioritise family planning rather than be driven by negative cultural practices."
Statistics provided at the summit indicate that a woman in Uganda has an average number of 6.2 children, and although this number has fallen from 6.7 from the previous year, it is still the second highest in the region, after DRC which has 6.4 children per woman.
Rwanda has the third lowest in the region at 4.6 children per woman, after Zimbabwe and Namibia which have 4.1 and 3.6 children per woman respectively.
"99 per cent of women and 100 per cent of men in Rwanda know at least one modern method of contraception. The Ministry of Health and its partners have ensured that knowledge about family planning and condom use," Anicet Nzabonimpa, the HIV Integration Coordinator in the Ministry of Health (MoH) said.
"We face a challenge stemming from religious influences whereby some beliefs do not approve the use of modern contraception methods; but all in all, they support the family planning aspect."
MoH statistics show that 40 per cent of sexually active, unmarried women use at least one modern contraceptive method compared to 45 per cent of married women.
According to Partners in Population and Development (PDD) two in three Africans currently have no access to reproductive health services and as a result, women in Sub-Saharan Africa have one out of sixteen chances of dying from complications of pregnancy during their lives.
PDD, a body that is dedicated to family planning and reproductive health, is an African intergovernmental alliance of 24 countries, Rwanda inclusive, which holds a permanent observer seat in the United Nations General Assembly.