Maternal Health, Family Planning: A Matter of Must

Originally posted by: FrontPage Africa

By: Mae Azango, one of four African journalists to win a prestigious grant from the Pulitzer Center to cover reproductive health issues

MaeLiberia.jpgFamily planning is now a serious problem in Africa, but many women in underdeveloped Countries are denied access to modern contraception due to inadequate supplies and isolation of rural dwellers in most instances. Other women are denied family planning methods because of cultural backgrounds and religious affiliation.

One would ask why family planning is important and should be made an access free service. According to a report conducted by Women Deliver, every year more than 500,000 women and girls die from pregnancy related complications. This has amounted to one death every minute. 

15-20 million women suffer from maternal morbidity every year. Almost all maternal deaths occur in developing countries and between the rich and poor population within every year.

This means when family planning is accessible to women in poor African countries, many women will not die frequently while giving life to another human being, but instead, prevent themselves and space their children properly. Some religions like Islam and the Catholic Church are kicking against family planning for different reasons based on their faith.

Sister Mary Laurene Browne of the Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia said the Catholic Church believes in natural family planning with no side effects, where a lady observes her menstrual cycle and body temperature and know when or when not to have sex and get pregnant when she is not ready for a child.

“The Church does not want to promote promiscuity. We believe that sex is intimate to marriage, so the Church won’t condone such acts. Because once a girl knows she could use condoms not to get pregnant, she could use the opportunity to run around with other people’s husbands and break up homes,” said sister Browne.

She pointed out that the only way this would happen is when in rare cases, when a husband has AIDS and the wife does not. “It would be right for him to use condoms because we won’t want the husband to affect the wife with the ailment.”

Imam Musa Kamara of a local Mosque in Bomi County said it is against the culture and tradition of Islam for women to take contraception because Allah said man and woman should multiply the Earth, and did not say anything about family planning which he refers to as the white man’s idea to stop Africans from having children.

In rural Liberia, family planning is poorly distributed due of the lack of awareness. Women in those areas have different notions of family planning; some believe that when they take the preventives, they won’t be able to have children after few years. Others are compelled by their husbands not to take the contraception and stop having children that are considered riches in Africa.

An instance occurred in rural Liberia few months ago where a young lady with a Muslim background in Bomi County was afraid to call her name due to culture bearings that it is not a woman’s place to talk and be part of decision making. 

This young lady explained how she was once introduced to family planning by a friend of hers, because she had children every year, and wanted to rest. She narrated that her husband did not know about her idea of taking the contraceptives because he would not have allowed her.

“After the first year, when I did not get pregnant, my husband asked me why it was taking long for me to get belleh (Pregnant) this time. When I said I did not know he left the subject. 

After another six months, I was secretly taking my pills on this day when my husband came home early that day and caught me in the process and beat me so badly as if I had committed a crime.. He said he see why I was not getting pregnant because I was killing his children he was suffering to make.”

According to the lady, she was later called to a family meeting with her family present and her husband threatened to leave her if she did not leave the white people medicine as they call family planning pills, so she was forced to leave it and had three additional children after the first four children. 

Fatu (not her real name) is one among many women in rural Liberia who are suffering similar problems, but if awareness was frequent in these rural areas, husband won’t beat their wives as Fatu or teenagers won’t get pregnant as frequently as possible.

A recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare showed that teenage pregnancy is on the increase in rural Liberia than Urban Monrovia. Two out of every three girls are pregnant or has a child. 

According to the survey, teenage pregnancies are high in the rural area than the urban areas because those girls in the rural areas do not have access to family planning and health education, which would help prevent them from getting pregnant at a very tender age.

Two months ago, when United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed the General Assembly, he stated: “Sustainable development is the imperative of the 21st century” pointing out: “We must invest in people, particularly in education and women’s and children’s health because development is not sustainable unless it is equitable and serves all people.”

Family planning programs do not only save and improve the lives of women and children; they empower people, strengthen health services and reduce poverty.

According to UNFPA, an agency responsible for population statement delivered at the 2011 international conference on family planning indicated that increasing access to voluntary family planning could prevent up to 1 in 3 maternal deaths and one in 11 child deaths. Every year 358,000 women die from pregnancy-related complications.

UNFPA further pointed out that fulfilling the unmet need of modern family planning in developing countries would cost US$3.6 billion, but this investment would actually lower the cost of providing maternal and newborn health services by US$1.5 billion, resulting in a net total saving of US$1.5 billion.

Flickr photo courtesy of Oxfam International

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