Kenya: Family Planning Uptake in W. Pokot Rising but Culture Still Impeding Progress

Only three of every 10 women in West Pokot County use modern contraceptives for family planning, a new survey has shown.

The study by the International Centre for Reproductive Health shows that while the uptake in West Pokot has increased from 13 per cent in 2013 to the current 26 per cent, it is still low compared with other counties.

The low uptake has been blamed on low literacy levels and traditional cultural beliefs that hamper the efforts of women who desire to practise family planning.

This is a big challenge to population management.

Cultural beliefs

Thousands of girls and women in the county are still being denied access to contraceptives as the community holds on to the cultural belief that the more children a woman has, the more respected she will be.

Some see childbearing as commensurate with dowry payments, with family planning frowned upon for the same reason.

Among those who have embraced family planning, the study showed, the preferred method is injectables and implants.

The research involved women aged between 14 and 49 in urban and rural parts of West Pokot, and took place from September to December 2020.

"The use of contraceptives in the county has improved due to community health volunteer's involvement that contribute towards mobilising the community to seek family planning services from the facilities," said Mr Wilson Chupan, reproductive health coordinator in West Pokot.

"In addition, we have had on-job training for healthcare providers on Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC), and Postpartum Family Planning (PPFP) and have integrated family planning with other services offered at the facility."

Nine of 10 women on family planning obtained their current contraceptive method from a public facility, the survey showed.

According to the report, 12 per cent of married women reported that their partner made them feel bad for wanting to use an PPFP method to delay or prevent pregnancy in the last year.

On decisions on whether to use family planning methods among partners, 46 per cent - a majority of whom had secondary or vocational education - of those interviewed said it was joint.

Awareness campaigns

Ms Mary Thiong'o, a senior technical adviser at Performance Monitoring for Action (PMA), which oversaw the process, asked the county government to invest more in family planning awareness campaigns.

"The West Pokot County government must make sure that every woman who visits health facilities both in the rural dispensaries and the referral hospital should be provided with enough information on the need for family planning and its importance to make informed decisions," said Ms Thiong'o.

PMA, she said, has been providing family planning data since 2014, in 11 counties including West Pokot, Kitui, Kilifi, Nandi, Siaya, Kakamega and Bungoma.

"The release of the data is vital for decision and policymakers and the implementation of programmes aimed at improving the reproductive status of the county," she said.

Ms Thiong'o added that 74 per cent of adolescents engaged in sex due to curiosity, making family planning education even more urgent.

Biggest challenges

County Health executive Christine Apokoreng said the data will guide the devolved unit's implementation of a family planning agenda.

Regarding young people, she said: "It was shocking that youths never wanted to engage in family planning methods since they are not yet married, one of the reasons why the county has a huge number of teenage pregnancies."

Wilson Ngareng, the county coordinator in charge of reproductive health, regretted that despite great improvements in the use of modern family planning methods, the biggest challenge for the county was low literacy levels.

Mr Ngareng also said men were an impediment as they kept their wives off contraceptives, mostly due to myths and misconceptions informed by cultural beliefs.

"The nature of the Pokot pastoralist lifestyle has affected implementation of reproductive family planning due to the frequent movement of locals with their livestock in search of pasture. Change of residence makes them lose track of plans," he said.

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