By Joseph Waninda
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) notes that as much as universal access to reproductive health by 2015 is one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals, most developing nations still have a long way to go.
It says some 222 million women worldwide who would like to avoid or delay pregnancy lack access to effective family planning.
In Uganda, only 26% of married women are using a method of contraception, 34 % of married women have an unmet need for family planning, 21% are in need of spacing while 14% are need of limiting according to the Uganda Demographic Household Survey (UDHS) 2011.
This suggests that women are not accessing the services they want and need, with poor women being the most affected.
This can in part be blamed on lack of sufficient information about contraception and poor access to family planning services.
Much as the Government and non-governmental organisations have put so much effort and money to preach the gospel of contraception because reproductive health is at the very heart of development, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding family planning that many women particularly rural ones would rather risk their lives than use them.
Many women are still operating under a spell of myths and misconceptions about contraceptives, which has watered down efforts to promote its use.
Some of the key myths and misconceptions include rumours that contraceptives “reduce a woman’s libido”, “make her add weight or harm her health”, “contraception makes women become promiscuous”, and “family planning causes cancer”.
These myths and misconceptions have had a negative effect on uptake of family planning services among women particularly in rural areas where they are very common.
While it is true that all drugs, including contraceptives have side effects, medics agree that this notion has been blown out of proportion when it comes to contraceptives.
This calls for renewed efforts to meet women’s needs for information and high-quality contraceptive services.
It is, therefore, important that family planning information and services be made more broadly available particularly to women in rural and hard to reach areas.
This is pertinent because family planning offers life-saving benefits to mothers and their children. Family planning also contributes to a range of development targets, including poverty reduction, gender equality, and environmental sustainability, as well as maternal and children’s health.
This, however, is only possible, if women have access to adequate information about contraception and a wide variety of methods to choose from in case of possible side effects from a certain method.
Family planning programmes should, therefore, focus on eliminating myths and misinformation, while strengthening factual information and all stakeholders including government, NGOs, health workers, leaders and men have a role to play.
There is need for training and updating health workers on proper use of family planning because some health workers at times fuel misconceptions because of poor training and limited understanding of the available guidelines.
Health workers need to emphasise the fact that contraceptives are safe and are tailor-made for each woman, depending on her health condition and be open to tell clients about possible minor but rather manageable side effects.
Contraception programmes should factor in the role of significant others, particularly spouses and friends. Often time, people who discuss family planning with their spouse, friends, and health workers are more likely to use contraception than those who don’t?
Family planning education programmes should also reach out to both men and women and provide accurate information on the risks of pregnancy, the benefits of birth spacing, and the safety and possible side effects of contraception, and encourage positive attitudes toward family planning.
All leaders at what level should actively enhance the position of family planning in the community and help mobilise resources by organising community forums and invite family planning providers and advocates to discuss the benefits of family planning, serve as models and “champions” for family planning by practising family planning and making public statements about its benefits and support the creation of a cadre of village health workers or health volunteers who provide family planning information and counselling in the community.
The more open we’re in discussing contraception and dispelling the various myths and misconceptions, the more likelihood that many people will embrace it and we can all play a part to make this happen.
The writer is a health communication practitioner