What is your idea of a better life? Is it easy accessibility to family planning services and information or gender equality?
For 22-year-old Katusiime Immaculate, a helper at Nyamuhandagazi Health center III, a better life means sustainable economic development. But this can only be achieved when sexually active young people have access to family planning methods that help them prevent unwanted pregnancies, an occurrence that often affects and dictates the life of a big percentage of the girl child. This way, they stay in school, stay productive and are fully in control of when and if to have children.
Due to unprecedented occurrences like the coronavirus pandemic, the need to be fully equipped and supported to make decisions about when to have children should be on everyone’s agenda.
In Uganda, modern family planning remains largely inaccessible due to factors like price and lack of accurate knowledge about family planning. The uptake of available family planning methods by men remains largely neglected, limiting the focus to the use of male condoms. The modern contraceptive prevalence is strongly determined by the level of knowledge and use of contraception.
According to the 2014 National Housing and population census, young people in Uganda make up the biggest percentage of the population. In spite of this, they are disproportionately affected by sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) challenges like early and unintended pregnancies, teenage pregnancies and more.
Indicators on teenage pregnancy,high HIV/AIDS prevalence, and mental health score highly amongst adolescents and young people. In order to extend information access on sexual reproductive health and rights with emphasis on the use of modern contraception and to support young people make informed life choices, Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU) commissioned the Increased Access to Modern contraception (I AM) for a better life project.
This three-year project aims to become the biggest family planning project in the southwest of Uganda with deep roots in Isingiro, Rwampara, and Mbarara districts. It aims at ensuring that young people are empowered and fully supported in their decision on if, when, and how to have children.
In having the agency to make informed decisions backed by accurate information, it is hoped that young people will; actively participate in family planning information sessions to further become aware of their SRH rights, question the non-factual information they hear on FP, diminish their belief in the common myths and misconceptions on FP and ultimately freely demand FP services from well-stocked service points and health facilities within their communities.
Deeply held myths and misconceptions on the purpose and effects of modern family planning remains a significant barrier to access to family planning services. In most of rural Uganda, beliefs such as Family planning can result in infertility, an intrauterine device (IUD) and implants disappear in women’s bodies and vasectomy is castration impede people’s demand for the services.
Exacerbated by the scattered presence of health facilities with a comprehensive family planning package, the gaps in health service delivery frustrate the efforts to extend access to many Ugandans.
The project will benefit women and women of reproductive age including special emphasis on adolescents and young people aged between 16 – 24 years who have the highest unmet need for modern contraception in Isingiro, Mbarara, and Rwampara.
In the month of October, we took to the districts of Isingiro, Rwampara, and Mbarara to conduct a peer educators’ training that targeted a total of 150 young people equipped with information and skills, health workers training featuring 36 health workers on modern contraception as well as map out health centers to work with. This was aimed at equipping peer educators with accurate contraception information that they in turn pass on to fellow young people as well as make referrals to health centers for services.
With the IAM for a better life project, we intend to empower and support various host and refugee young people aged 16 – 24 years in their family planning decisions; if, when, and how to have children. We aim at empowering an increased number of young people who have access to quality family planning information and services, ensuring that duty bearers are mobilized to promote young people’s access to FP information and services and the availability of data and evidence on youth FP interventions that are widely accessible to relevant stakeholders.
Other avenues to make sure young people are accessing modern contraception is by engaging men and boys to address gender-related dynamics. Many a time, men have deliberately stepped aside and left the burden of family planning to women, a thing that should be left in the past. Furthermore, we will build the capacity of providers like peer educators and health workers who directly impact and pass on information and services to young people who seek them as well as strengthen District Family Planning Information Management and Whole-Clinic Approach to Family Planning.
Family Planning is central to gender equality and women’s empowerment and is a key driver of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Equally, it is one of the most cost-effective health interventions in the developing world.