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Access to contraceptives benefits slum women

08 November 2013, 13:52 Christine Lagat

Nairobi - Beatrice Shibunga's lean figure and smooth face camouflages her actual age and the fact that the 46- year-old has given birth to eight children astonishes her neighbors and acquaintances.

The cheerful community health worker from Korogocho, a densely populated Nairobi slum, epitomizes courage in adversity, and to date, Shibunga's life journey continues to inspire both friend and foe.

"I was born in Nairobi and gave birth at the age of 13 when I cohabited with my childhood flame. Child bearing was an annual event and at the age of 30, I had eight children," Shibunga said in an attentive crowd attending a forum on family planning in Nairobi on Thursday.

Like millions of poor mothers in Nairobi slums, Shibunga's narrative revolved around poverty, ignorance and a fatalistic attitude.

She had no gainful employment as a young mother and providing basic needs to her eight children was a nightmare.

"My three children succumbed to illnesses as poverty stalked every path I trod on. There was no food in the house on most occasions and I could not afford school fees for my children," Shibunga said.

Shibunga's life was transformed when she met a social worker who introduced her to a charity organization that was empowering Korogocho mothers.

"We were taught lifelong skills including how to prepare healthy food for our families alongside using contraceptives to limit the number of children. I started using injections and shared the good news to community members," Shibunga told policymakers, health advocates and journalists attending the family planning forum.

She is currently an accomplished family planning champion in Korogocho where she mobilizes men, women and youth to take up contraceptives.

Access to modern family planning commodities continues to elude poor Kenyan women and the phenomenon is to blame for worsening poverty, social and environmental disruptions.

The Kenya Demographic Health Survey of 2010 indicated that 10 million women of child bearing age in Kenya lack access to contraceptives, hence a surge in unwanted pregnancies.

Senior government officials said on Thursday that investment in family planning is a major priority to promote maternal and infant health.

"Reproductive health including family planning is a constitutional right and the government will increase financial allocation towards women and children's health," said principal secretary in the Ministry of Health, Fred Segor.

He revealed that Kenya is on course to achieve universal access to family planning services in line with global benchmarks.

"We were the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to launch a comprehensive family planning strategy. The government has dedicated a budget for family planning commodities and if the current momentum is sustained, we might surpass the universal target," Segor said.

He revealed that Kenya has achieved a 56 percent national coverage on family planning commodities while 9 million dollars have been set aside for this activity in 2013.

As policymakers burn the midnight oil discussing interventions that would lower birth rate in the country, grassroots women have gone an extra mile to champion for leaner families.

Despite her predicament, Rosemary Awuor has vowed to remain a foot soldier in advocating for fewer children among her peers in Korogocho slums.

The 34-year-old mother of four juggles advocate and champion for greater uptake of contraceptives among men, women and youth in Korogocho.

Awuor was enrolled in a donor funded family planning program that targets women and youth in the informal settlements.

"We train young mothers on reproductive health and our door-to- door campaign has reduced teenage pregnancies among teenage girls, " Awuor told Xinhua.

She regretted that poverty and ignorance fuel unwanted pregnancies in the informal settlements.

"Girls as young as 15 are getting unwanted pregnancies due to lack of information on contraceptives that are readily available in public health facilities," said Awuor.

Female volunteers have occupied the front seat to champion for lean families in Nairobi slums and their efforts have paid dividends.

According to Peninah Nyambura, a volunteer in Kangemi slums, poor women bear the brunt of unplanned pregnancies and there is need to target them in family planning campaigns.

The mother of two revealed to Xinhua that she got her first child without planning but access to contraceptives enabled her to space for the second child.

"We need to enlighten young mothers on the need to have fewer children. A lean family means quality life for both the mother and the child," Nyambura said.

- Xinhua

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