Family planning myths hurting service delivery

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An intrauterine device, or IUD, is a flexible T-shaped device that's inserted by a doctor into uterus. IUD blocks sperm and changes the lining of the uterus, which may keep a fertilised egg from attaching. Pregnancy is prevented from three to 12 years, depending on the type. / Internet photo

It is common for some people to shun the use of modern family planning methods with a belief that it’s part of western world’s ploys to make them barren and wipe out Africans.

Florence Numukobwa, a mother of five, stopped using modern family planning methods after her colleagues and husband convinced her that they cause infertility and increase the risk of getting cancer.

These perceptions complicate access to family planning services and the benefits that come with it, resulting into other challenges like over population and unintended pregnancies, among others.

In a recent workshop on family planning and prevention of maternal held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, experts pointed out that myths and misconceptions as one of the barriers to the proper use of family planning.

According to statistics from the United Nations Population Fund, in 2015, contraceptive use among married women in Eastern and Southern Africa was at 38.6 per cent, and at 17.6 per cent in West and Central Africa.

Paidamoyo Chipuneza, a journalist with The Herald newspaper in Zimbabwe, noted during the workshop that myths are one of the biggest barriers to family planning uptake in her country.

She said that what makes matters worse is that some myths are actually promoted by big movements, which causes a lot of constraints for the beneficiaries to access family planning services in the country.

Chipuneza said, “There is a movement that is against the use of contraceptives, and because of that, people are finding it hard to believe that family planning is safe because they are told that it causes cancer and infertility, and that it affects kidneys too.”

Dr Kanyanta Sunkutu, the technical specialist in charge of reproductive health commodity security for the UNFPA in Eastern and Southern Africa, says that addressing such myths and misconceptions is very vital because they remain a significant barrier to people accessing services.

“Culture, wrong information and strong religious views are some of the factors that give rise to some misconceptions; some cultures too prohibit certain safer sexual practices,” he says.

And with such misconceptions barricading the way, Sunkutu says that their target of having about 120 million women accessing family planning by the year 2020 would be hard to reach.

“Where there is misinformation, misconceptions are bound to occur. The commonly held myths are mostly around condom use, pills, injectables and implants, as they are believed to cause adverse effects on kidneys, premature births and barrenness, among other myths,” he says.

Misconceptions on family planning affect young people most because society expects them to abstain, and hence deny them access to safe sexual practices, which in turn leads to unintended pregnancies.

Phumzile Dlamini, UNFPA communications head for Swaziland, says with the global Sustainable Development Goals, it is hoped that all people should soon have access to these services.

“One of the targets talks right to our mandate; universal access to sexual reproductive services including family planning services,” she says.

The vulnerability of young people, particularly young women in the region, is much higher than in other groups, Dlamini says.

According to a study by United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the number of new infections per week amongst young women aged 15-24 in Eastern and Southern Africa is over 2,000 in South Africa, and over 280 in Zimbabwe.

“With these infections, it calls for heavy investments because there is an issue of young people failing to access contraceptives in many African countries,” Dlamini says.

Debunking the myths

Dr Sunkutu advises health experts to work with local leaders to sensitise their communities about the benefits of modern family planning methods.

“Sometimes people resist use of family planning because you are bringing to them something that has not been part of their culture or their past practice, so the approach one uses matters. If, for instance, you approach someone who has strong religious beliefs, it’s better to go through someone who relates closely with them so that you reach a common ground,” he explains.

Dr Sunkutu is of the view that debunking myths with correct perceptions by providing evidence based information, offering individual and couple counselling, opening community dialogues to interact regularly with individuals and couples are some of the ways experts can use to help in calming people’s fears about family planning.

Dr Diane Gashumba, the Minister for Health, says that the myths and misconceptions that people have about family planning services can indeed be a huge constraint in access to the services, but says the ministry is devising strategies of dealing with them.

She says that it’s better to address the possible risks associated with the use of family planning to give users more confidence and better insights into the methods.

“Whenever we carry out campaigns, we make sure that we sensitise the beneficiaries on both the benefits and the side effects of family planning. They are also advised on the various methods available so that they choose what is safer for them,” Dr Gashumba says.

“We also always carry out a couple’s counselling and these are held from the various health facilities where both partners are given the required information on the services,” she adds.