The Catholic Church is frustrating efforts to scale up family planning and the Government should reconsider on how it engages the Church on the matter, the Minister for Health has said.
Dr Diane Gashumba made the revelation on Friday during a consultative meeting on family planning at Parliament in Kigali. The meeting was organised by the parliamentary network on population and development.
The minister said that the first approach was using dialogue to educate the Church about the essence of providing all services in family planning, including artificial birth control contraceptives, but it has refused and only allows natural contraception.
Citing recent letters by Catholic Church leaders in Burera District requesting the administrators of the Church-run health facilities to return family planning equipment back to the Government, the minister said the Church is frustrating efforts to control births.
Catholic clerics bless the congregation during the installation of Antoine Kambanda as the Archbishop of the Kigali Archdiocese in January. File.
She said that a law needs to be applied across the country to ensure that all health facilities provide available family planning services to citizens.
“What is in these letters is of great concern for me as the Minister for Health,” she said of the Catholic Church’s instructions to its health facilities to stop offering modern contraceptive services.
She added: “I wasn’t aware that there are other people in charge of healthcare services provision in this country apart from the Ministry of Health”.
The minister said that she was worried about the Catholic Church’s continued attitude towards family planning, indicating that two opposing systems were emerging in the country when it comes to providing healthcare services.
She urged legislators to intervene in ensuring that the Church respects the country’s laws, including providing all known healthcare services to citizens.
“We need your help because we have made so many consultations with the Church leaders but they haven’t produced any useful results. It’s time we started respecting our Constitution,” she said, adding that it’s time to enforce the country’s laws because dialogue with the Church hasn’t worked.
“We can’t continue with a situation where healthcare professionals trained to do their work and paid by the Government can’t do their job because the Church has prevented them,” she said.
The Church runs about a third of the country’s hospitals and clinics but some of the healthcare providers at the facilities are paid by the Government.
Organised by the Rwanda Network of Rwandan Parliamentarians on Population and Development (RPRPD), the meeting focused on challenges facing Rwandans in the area of family planning and possible solutions.
The idea is to have a population growth that matches the country’s economic development as a result of investments in family planning, which is the practice of controlling the number of children one has and the intervals between their births.
For Jeanine Condo, the director general of Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), current challenges in family planning include poor management of side-effects caused by contraceptives, ill-informed religious and cultural beliefs, rumours, lack of communication among family members, as well as lack of youth-friendly services at health facilities and communities.
Rwanda is one of the countries that have made impressive gains in family planning in recent years, cutting fertility rate from 5.8 to 4.2 children per woman between 2000 and 2015.
The country also saw the use of modern contraception methods rise from 4 per cent to 48 per cent during the same period.
But there is still a long way to go considering the fact that Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries on the continent, which is a threat to national development goals.