As Kenya joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Contraception Day on September 26, a lot of women in the country are still faced with an unmet need for family planning.
Women with unmet need are broadly defined as those who want to postpone their next birth for two years or more, or not have any more children, but they are not using contraception
According to the latest national survey (Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014), about one in four married women of reproductive age reported having an unmet need for family planning at the time of the survey, which translates into approximately 1.4 million women. Half of these women wanted to space their next birth and the other half did not want to have any more children.
Women who want to avoid pregnancy but are not using an effective method of contraception, account for a large majority of unplanned pregnancies. In Kenya, 43 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned.
Unmet need for family planning is highest among adolescents (15 to 19-year-olds) and 20 to 29-year-olds at about 30 per cent, compared to 22 per cent of 30 to 34-year-olds. The level of unmet need continues to be higher in rural areas (27 per cent) than in urban areas (20 per cent).
According to the Ministry of Health, the top four reasons why women who say that they want to avoid a pregnancy are not using family planning are:
1. Fear of side effects and health concerns.
2. Opposition to use, either by the husband or partner or owing to perceived religious prohibition.
3.Having sex infrequently; many wrongly believe that if they only have sex occasionally, they are not at risk, and therefore don’t need to use family planning.
4.Women cited postpartum reasons for not using, although many women are not sure how long they are safe from getting pregnant after giving birth.
While lack of contraceptive supplies and logistic problems in getting the contraceptives to the user continue to be a challenge in some counties, only a small proportion of women (six per cent) stated that lack of access (distance or costs) was the reason for not using them.
With the unacceptably high level of unmet need for family planning in Kenya, reducing it is paramount in the fight against the high levels of induced abortions, maternal and neo-natal morbidity.
Family planning is critical for the health of women and their families.
Promotion of family planning and ensuring access to preferred contraceptive methods for women and couples is essential to securing the well-being and autonomy of women.
Allowing women to choose whether, when, and how many children to have achieves progress on global health goals. It also helps break the cycle of poverty, and puts families, communities, and countries on a stronger, more prosperous and sustainable path.
MICHAEL OKUN OLIECH, Kisumu.