FAMILY planning the world over has long been fraught with political, cultural and religious controversy, ever since the first pioneers began to promote the benefits of birth spacing in the early 20th century.
According to statistics released by the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council, the uptake of family planning is still low in rural areas where teenage pregnancies are still prevalent.
A recent visit to Mambowa small-scale mining area in Shurugwi revealed that many young women who are entering marriage at an early age do not have access to contraceptives and in cases where family planning choices are available, they cannot afford the costs.
Mrs Muchaneta Machirori, a 22-year-old mother with three children below five years, in Mambowa area said she had never used any contraceptives for a long time due to various reasons.
“We normally get lessons on the need to use contraceptives when we visit the clinic for baby wellness but I cannot afford the one dollar cost that is needed,” she said.
Mrs Machirori said long back village health workers used to distribute family planning pills for free but it was now a thing of the past and it was leading to low family planning services uptake especially in rural areas.
“Our village health workers used to supply us with family planning pills but now they no longer do so. I wish that system could be brought back because it empowers me as a woman to control my reproductive system,” she said.
Mrs Machirori said her three children who were aged five, three and one are not by choice because it was a natural reproduction system as she had no family planning alternatives.
“My biggest fear is that I might even fall pregnant again because once I stop breastfeeding I will be susceptible to another pregnancy.”
The mother of three revealed that she had in the past tried traditional forms of family planning but the methods came with side effects.
“Our village traditional midwives have told us about some traditional herbs such as mutsvanzva, munhanzva and roots of a muroro tree but these have not been very efficient. The labour of having to go into the forest every now and again and at times overdosing the prescription may lead to further health complications,” she said.
She added that the burden of family planning rests upon her as a woman because her husband was not interested in the subject, neither does he care how many children they might end up having if she was to take a back seat too.
“I always tell my husband to buy me family planning pills but he does not take it as a serious issue. When I fall pregnant, it becomes my burden to cater for the child until the child goes to school. My husband does not share the challenges I go through in raising the children. He only shows joy when a baby boy is born and it ends there.”
Women empowerment activist Ms Nyaradzo Mashayamombe believes women empowerment should go beyond the boardroom talk and give practical solutions to challenges that women face.
“Provision of family planning services in rural areas should be free and accessible. That alone will prevent a lot of child marriages that are rampant in rural settings. If male condoms are readily available in many places, then why not family planning services and sanitary pads for women,” asked Ms Mashayamombe.
Meanwhile, lawmakers recently called on the Government to channel more funds towards family planning and reproductive health as communities in the country were currently largely dependent on donor funds.
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee On Health Dr Ruth Labode noted that there was an urgent need to mobilise funds for family planning services, especially in rural areas.
No operations and capital grant was availed to the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council by the Government from 2014.
Population Services Zimbabwe country director, Abebe Shibru said family planning had advantages in that it improves the health, education, and well-being of women, as well as allowing countries to invest in economic development.
Dr Munyaradzi Murwira, director of the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council, noted the challenges associated with boosting contraceptive use in the country.
“Potential funding gaps are nothing new, as funding for family planning was diverted to HIV programmes across the developing world during the 1990s. Funding for our family planning programmes has been limited over the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.
“Barriers to meeting the full demand for contraceptives are many. Stock outs limit access to contraception, some countries limit contraceptives on non-medical grounds, for example, to unmarried women and adolescents, and some women need their husbands’ consent to use contraception or must pay for it.”
The unmet need for contraceptives among married women aged 15-49 years in WHO’s Africa Region is estimated at 24 percent and lags considerably behind the rest of the world, according to the Atlas of African health statistics 2016.
However, Zimbabwe remains one of the top countries to scale up health services in Africa. Critics believe high literacy rates in Zimbabwe, should reflect a knowledgeable and progressive society that is able to make healthy choices.
According to the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey — the country exceeds the global average on contraceptive prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa with 67 percent of married women aged 15 to 49 years having access to contraceptives.
Zimbabwe’s family planning strategy is to increase contraceptive prevalence rate from 59 percent to 68 percent by 2020, and in the process reducing teenage pregnancies from 24 percent to 12 percent by 2020.