Alarm over low uptake of birth control pills in West Pokot

Kapenguria MP Samuel Moroto (in checked shirt) joins Kapenguria Theatre Group actors while sensitising the community to the use of contraceptives, in Karas village, West Pokot County, on November 14, 2021.

Photo credit: Osca Kakai | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The county is third in the country with low uptake of child spacing methods as traditional beliefs hamper family planning efforts.
  • Only 26 per cent of women in the county use modern family planning methods because of repugnant beliefs.

Thousands of girls and women in West Pokot County are still being denied the use of contraceptives as the community holds to a cultural belief that women were meant to give birth to more children for them to be respected and the dowry paid should not “go to waste”.

The county is third in the country with low uptake of child spacing methods as traditional beliefs hamper family planning efforts.

Only 26 per cent of women in the county use modern family planning methods because of repugnant beliefs, according to Amref and Performance Monitoring and Accountability Survey, indicating a big challenge to population management.

Contraceptive prevalence in the county is 14 per cent and fertility rate is 7.2 per cent, as per the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey report.

Teen pregnancies

This has led to high prevalence of teenage pregnancies at 29 per cent, leading to many school dropouts among girls.

Declares Organisation director Jefferson Mudaki on Wednesday said West Pokot is grappling with low uptake of contraceptives because of cultural and traditional barriers.

At a stakeholders’ meeting in Kapenguria, he expressed concern that low use of family planning and child spacing methods is causing population explosion in the region.

Many teenage girls are trapped in pregnancy and motherhood, which dims their hope of completing education, starting a career or becoming financially independent, he said.

“When women and girls have access to contraception, everybody wins; fewer girls drop out of school; fewer mothers die when giving birth; and more young women enter the workforce. Multiply that by millions, and it becomes clear why contraception is one of the smartest investments countries can make,” said Mr Mudaki.

Low awareness

He added that ensuring young people have the information they need on sex is a real challenge, particularly in societies where unmarried teenagers are excluded from receiving information and sexual health services and men remain decision-makers on family planning issues.

Mr Francis Soprin, a Kapenguria Theatre Group CBO Board chairman, said they educate the community on the benefits of family planning through theatre performances.

“In a pastoral community that values big families and frowns on men talking about family planning, we have stood out to help my people. The Catholic Church is perceived to be against family planning, but in some families, it has worked,” he said.

He said men tend to believe it is the duty of women to practise family planning as they stay away from the practice as unplanned pregnancy is perceived as an achievement without considering that the life of that child is at risk.

World Vision girl child protection officer Teresa Cheptoo, who is also an anti-female genital mutilation champion in the county, said one of the factors that contribute to high fertility rate in the county is poverty, which, she added, averages 60.32 per cent, way above the national level of 45 per cent.

“It will take years and the efforts of different organisations to educate the community on the importance of family planning as younger women and girls feel the burden of raising large families without the support of their husbands. In the olden days, after women gave birth, the husband ran away from home, but nowadays, our men are about to accept family planning,” she said.

Ms Cheptoo called on the national and county governments to invest in family planning and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.

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