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Why family planning is part of sustainable growth equation

As we mark World Population Day today we speak to two women, whose lives were shaped by the choices they made on contraception

Everlyn Were is a proud mother of seven. When she got married 32 years ago, she had the dream of building a manageable and happy family.  Eager to limit the size of her family, she started using the daily oral pill as a form of contraception after the birth of her first child in 1981. But due to severe side-effects of the hormonal contraception she got off the pill only to find that she was pregnant with twins three years later.  Her husband who worked as a casual labourer was the family’s breadwinner.

“We struggled with abject poverty. Food was a big problem. Many days we resorted to eating cassava and black tea,” she says. Her firstborn child developed Kwashiorkor and was taken by a well-wisher for treatment as she struggled to fend for the twins. Two years later, Everlyn was pregnant again. She welcomed another set of twins as the ballooning family further sank into poverty. Her husband’s meagre earnings were overstretched and he decided to leave their home in Kakamega and look for a job in Nairobi.

Her husband’s new job gave Everlyn a second chance to take charge of her reproductive destiny. “My husband got a job at a family planning company. He was eager to share what he learnt about family planning from his place of work. Once more I adopted family planning, this time with the support of my husband and conceived our last born three years later,” she says. Bringing up her children was a huge struggle, but the 52-year-old is glad that she took charge of planning her family, though a little too late. 

Unlike Everlyn, Mercy Muthoni had no plans to start a family when she found out she was pregnant two years ago. She was preparing for her final secondary education exams in a high school in Kangemi, Nairobi, when the results of a pregnancy test threw her plans into disarray.  Despite being sexually active while in school, she opted not to use any form of contraception due to myths associated to them. “Some of her classmates claimed that family planning made one grow fat,” she says.

Her concentration in school was affected and when she finally sat for the exams, her performance was poorer than she had expected. When her son was born two years ago, the 20-year-old vowed to abstain from sex and work hard to raise her son.

The two are just a fraction of myriad of women of child-bearing age who end up with unintended pregnancies owing to lack of access and ignorance about family planning methods. Unintended pregnancies contribute to high maternal mortality due to birth-related complications and unsafe abortions.

Lack of access to family planning methods has led to population surge in the country and globally. Today as the world marks World Population Day under the theme
Family
Planning
is
a
Human
Right
, access to contraception is important to promote sustainable population growth.

“The Kenyan population is growing by one million every year. Family planning is important in enabling parents space their children to promote both the health of mother and child. It is critical in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by regulating the population growth,” said Samuel Tanui, Nairobi county Coordinator, National Council for Population and Development.

Presently, women and girls in Nairobi County have limited access to family planning methods due to low or no stock in the health facilities. Some of the family planning methods include oral pills, implants, injectable, intrauterine device, condoms, tubal litigation, vasectomy, emergency contraception and natural methods.

Evidence for action Mama Ye, a non-governmental organisation focusing on maternal and newborn health in sub-Saharan Africa last Wednesday launched a weeklong campaign dubbed #Jazashelves aimed at stirring action towards regular and constant supply of contraceptives in health facilities to curb unintended pregnancies and related maternal deaths.

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