After her fifth child, Mary Partabka decided to take up family planning without informing her husband.
Partabka went for the pills which she would hide under the bed and did not give birth for some time much to the chagrin of her mother-in-law who wanted more grandchildren. This went well until she was busted.
“One day, my husband stumbled upon the pills and he threw them away so after some time I got pregnant again and after giving birth I resorted to a long lasting method, the implant,” she says.
The woman from Chepareria in West Pokot County says demand for more children is common. The county’s fertility rate stands at 7.2 children, the second highest after Wajir at 7.8.
After her fifth child, she talked to husband and he accepted the need for family planning. He now knows she is using the implant until they decide whether they want another baby.
She said: “I talked to my husband and we decided that we shall go for family planning to prevent any unintended pregnancies as well as get any more children just when we need them.”
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Partabka is just one of the few women in the county on family planning. Only one in six women is on any family planning method in West Pokot according to the Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (PMA) 2020. This is below the national average which stands at 58 per cent.
Just like her, Evelyne Arekai who has three children also used injectable contraceptive which her husband knew nothing about. When he realised she had to stop and got her third child after which the two agreed to use the implant.
This is the reality on the ground even as Kenya hosts the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+25) from Tuesday.
The conference, which was first held in Cairo 25 years ago will have thematic areas revolving around universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; financing for sexual and reproductive health issues; ending gender-based violence; and upholding the right to sexual and reproductive healthcare.
A new push to reverse this trend and have more women accessing family planning services began in June this year and seeks to have families have children they can comfortably care for.
Dubbed ‘Delivering Sustainable and Equitable Increases in Family Planning in Kenya (DESIP)’, the initiative targets 19 counties with low contraceptive prevalence rate. Interestingly, most counties in this cluster also have high prevalence rates of female genital mutilation, a form of violence against women and girls.
Josephine Mbiyu, a programme officer with Population Services Kenya which is leading the consortium implementing the project funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, says it targets to improve prevalence in these counties that have a contraceptive prevalence of between two and 45 per cent.
The programme is being undertaken in partnership with HealthRight International.
Ms Mbiyu says research has proved that if women space their children, they are likely to have a better quality of life not only for themselves but also the children.
“The goal of DESIP is to ensure women and girls can safely plan for their pregnancies in line with sexual and reproductive health rights particularly the young rural, marginalised and persons with disability,” says Mbiyu.
Research has shown that children who are well-spaced have a higher chance of all-rounded development.
West Pokot County has a population growth rate of 3.1 per cent, with one in every three adolescents getting pregnant.
Only one in 13 adolescents and youth are on family planning. This therefore leaves girls in danger of not only getting unintended pregnancies but also contracting HIV.
John Anampiu, regional coordinator for the National Council for Population and Development, says that West Pokot is one of the counties where women still give birth to more children than any other part. He blames this on a weak healthcare system and low-levels of literacy.
Mbiyu says, “Part of what the programme aims to tackle is teenage pregnancies through social behaviour, change approach as well as service provision for young people.”
Young people also concur that the youth need to be targeted. Jefferson Mudaki of the Declares Inspirational Youth Empowerment Centre in Kapenguria says the scourge of adolescent pregnancies is a big challenge that is yet to be tackled. “There is need to focus on young people who adults want to assume are not engaging in sex but the reality is they are. They fall pregnant and some even resort to unsafe abortions,” says Mudaki.
The entire county has no youth friendly centre in any of its health facilities, which leaves the critical age group out in provision of critical sexual health services.
West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo acknowledges these challenges but states that one of the major challenges faced by the county is low literacy levels. He states that this is why his focus has been education to have a more enlightened population that will embrace family planning.
On Monday November 4, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics released the results of the national census, which found that the population of West Pokot is 621,241.