The power to protect and to plan
Posted Wednesday, November 30 2011 at 00:00
When it comes to reproductive health issues, Mercy Kagiri’s life could mirror those of millions of women on the African continent.
The 27-year-old mother of two children, aged four years and seven months, lives in Nairobi’s Kibera slum settlement.
She runs a food kiosk near her home, while her husband, Peter Mwangi, 32, is a driver.
After the birth of her first child, Ms Kagiri began using a three-month injectable contraceptive until she was ready to conceive again.
She realises that it can only protect her against unwanted pregnancies.
“But I cannot ask my husband to use a condom, since it would raise issues of distrust in our marriage,” she explains, and adds that her husband knows she uses this contraceptive.
Demographic Health Survey data collected in countries in Africa and Southeast Asia reveal that injectable contraceptives are the most popular option for women like Mercy Kagiri, who face daunting cultural and social pressure to produce many children.
Often, women conceive and deliver those children knowing they cannot afford to raise them, or when the pregnancy is a threat to their own health.
But although Ms Kagiri lauds her contraceptive method for its convenience, she is troubled by a missing link. “I am less worried about a pregnancy, but what if I contracted HIV?”
Indeed, although a recently-published research suggested a tentative link between use of injectable contraceptives and contracting HIV, so far, women like Kagiri have not been deterred.
The good news is that researchers have been trying to link the two realms of family planning and HIV prevention for years.
This week, many of those researchers, public health officials, and advocates for family planning and reproductive health issues are meeting in Dakar, Senegal, for the International Conference on Family Planning.
It is the largest ever meeting of its kind, bringing together more than 2,000 experts to discuss progress and challenges in the fields of family planning and reproductive health.
It is no coincidence that during the four-day gathering, the World Aids Day will be observed on 1 December.
HIV/Aids is one of the biggest challenges in the areas of reproductive health and family planning.
But while that historic event is occurring in Senegal, Kenya, will mark an important anniversary that has equal resonance.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Programme for Appropriate Technologies in Health (PATH) operations in Kenya.
PATH’s work in issues like diarrhoeal disease and vaccine development is only surpassed by its ground-breaking research in Multipurpose Prevention Technologies (MPTs).