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Community Distributors Boost Access to Family Planning
Suzanne Mawazao holds up contraceptive pills from her CBD toolkit. Photo Credit: Landry Malaba, Abt Associates for USAID IHP
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Tanganyika province suffers from insecurity caused by crime and an inaccessibility to health services. Among other health gaps, uptake of family planning (FP) methods is slow due to false rumors that contraception causes infertility.
“Many people here gave birth because they didn’t use family planning, and there were a lot of teenage pregnancies,” said Suzanne Mawazao, who lives in Tangayika’s Kalemie health zone.
It’s a challenge Mawazao is trying to address. A farmer in her sixties, Mawazao is also a community-based distributor (CBD) of no-cost contraceptives in an area without a local health facility. She provides family planning information, delivers FP products so that women don’t have to travel long distances to obtain them, and offers referrals to clinical FP provider sites as needed.
She’s not alone. In mid-2020, the Abt Associates-led USAID Integrated Health Program organized the province’s first CBD training course to prepare Mawazao and 139 other crucial health workers to conduct home visits and share information on contraceptive methods. The training explained the program’s approach of empowering CBDs to increase access to family planning methods and products in isolated communities. The Program continues ongoing support in Tanganyika and other provinces through CBD-led monitoring meetings to analyze monthly data, identify challenges, and propose solutions to improve quality of services.
Meanwhile, the Program also helps organize FP mini-campaigns that include community debates and focus groups on FP barriers and advantages. These complement CBD efforts by building demand and addressing hesitation about contraception.
Abt’s integrated FP approach is generating results across the DRC’s nine target provinces, where more than 3.6 million women have become new users of modern contraceptives since the Program’s inception. Between October 2019 and September 2020, the number of new acceptors of modern contraception in Eastern Congo (which includes Tanganyika province) increased by 148.4%.
“After our awareness-raising campaign, people understand the benefits of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies,” Mawazao said. “The training supplied us with interpersonal communication skills and the knowledge we need to conduct home visits, and we no longer struggle to help people understand the benefits of voluntary family planning.”
The Abt-led program supplies all 11 health zones in Tanganyika with family planning commodities. It also provides CBDs with a kit consisting of a backpack, megaphone, boots, umbrella, checklist, technical fact sheet, and service register for recording commodities and those who accept products. CBDs usually conduct four to eight home visits each month in addition to larger informational sessions.
When women have access to voluntary family planning, they can space their pregnancies appropriately, reducing risks to maternal and child health. Abt supports the DRC Ministry of Public Health, Hygiene, and Sanitation’s integration of FP into all phases of maternal health care in line with the Ministry’s Maternal, Infant, and Child Survival Strategy.