Expired contraceptive supplies a wake-up call for government

OPINION |

Sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental human right and a human development issue that countries and states must strive to actualise. But this right that is seemingly at a crossroads of gross violations.

News of government’s complacency in allowing expired family planning commodities to be released to women is one harrowing example. It has emerged that a consignment of implants procured by United Nations Population Fund and dispatched to Kwale, Lamu, Nyamira and Kakamega counties by Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, had expired due to delays in clearance at the Mombasa port.

Unfortunately, this incident could put the lives of young women dependent on these commodities at risk. It paints a brink picture that exposes the underbelly of our healthcare system that continues to exacerbate the unmet family planning needs. This begs the question: Where did we go wrong in upholding the sexual and reproductive health rights of our women?

Women’s sexual and reproductive health rights have been under siege since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic as efforts by most countries were focused on controlling the spread of the virus.

Lockdowns

Majority of low-income women faced a double threat as they struggled to keep afloat physically and mentally. Gender-based violence has been on the rise as many people have been holed up in their homes due lockdowns and unemployment.

The change of government priorities has meant little or no attention is being given to family planning commodities’ supply, affecting availability and accessibility. This continues to deny women the right to make a choice over their reproductive lives and future.

This challenge is even more pronounced amongst those who are further ‘left behind’ with diverse intersectionalities. This demograph includes young women living with disabilities, sexual and gender minorities, young women living with HIV, adolescent girls, young women and girls in displacement situations and refugees disproportionately affected by these extremities.

CPD25+ conference

Kenya has committed to international and regional instruments that protect the sexual and reproductive health rights of all its citizens. In fact, during the ICPD25+ conference in Nairobi, Kenya reaffirmed its commitment to universal health coverage including provision of essential reproductive health goods and services. 

Nevertheless, a lot needs to be done to accelerate government promise in guaranteeing citizens access to quality sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Research by Family Planning Kenya indicates that Kenya’s contraceptive access rate is still low at 42.5 per cent. This should be of concern considering that Kenya has a high youthful population and meeting sexual and reproductive health rights needs may quickly become a pipe dream if something is not done urgently.

A few measures can go a long way for Kenya to bolster universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare commodities. These measures can equally cushion the millions of young women who need the critical support in accessing contraceptive commodities, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic that has disrupted healthcare systems.

First, measures should be tightened to ensure that incidences such as supplying expired expired family planning commodities never happen again. We wish to remind the government that its core responsibility lies in prioritising and providing quality and timely sexual and reproductive health right services to all persons at all times without discrimination.

Such essential services would cover each stage of the reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health scorecard that Kenya has committed to which includes family planning, post-abortion care, child birth, postnatal and adolescence. 

Secondly, all state agencies mandated to procure sexual and reproductive health commodities should endeavour to harmonise operations particularly in procurement, clearance and transportation of goods.

This will avert future delays and ensure they work in tandem for the common good of all Kenyans.

Thirdly, it is paramount for the Ministry of Health and related agencies to ensure quality controls and quality assurance are entrenched in their processes by enhancing capacity and surveillance to ensure that Kenyans only consume pharmaceutical products of best quality.

Civil society

This will go a long way in restoring the dashed hopes of young girls and women who want autonomy to make decisions over their bodies and reproductive health.

Lastly, we call upon all Kenyans and the civil society, through movements such as We Lead, to be extra vigilant and to continue supporting government efforts in provision of quality healthcare by demanding for accountability.

We must endevour to inform the public, particularly right-holders, of their reproductive health rights to the best attainable standards of health as the Constitution prescribes.

The government must therefore act in the best interest of its people and address the sexual and reproductive health needs of young women.

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