Sagal Ali, Abuja: As the Family Planning Champion for UNFPA in Nigeria, I strongly believe and advocate for the benefits of access to effective and affordable contraception, to empower and protect women’s health and socio-economic wellbeing. This is why, on World Contraception Day, we must uphold the rights of women to choose when and how they want to start a family. It is crucial for mothers to space childbirth and pregnancies for 1000 days, for their health, wellbeing and socio-economic stability, and for this to successfully happen, women need to have access to safe, modern, effective and affordable contraceptives.
Childbirth and pregnancy spacing is vital for the health and wellbeing of mothers and their families. The lack of properly spaced pregnancies can lead to various health issues, such as increased risk of your next child being a preterm, having low birth weight or being of small gestational size. Unspaced pregnancies also affect the mother’s ability to fully recover as pregnancies deplete essential nutrients. Financial instability can also occur as many are not prepared for the cost of raising and feeding a growing family, which often leads to debt and poverty, stress and divorce. In Nigeria, a country of 188.9 million people, of which over 42 million are women of reproductive age, the contraceptive use (any method) is still abysmally low at 15.1 %. Worse, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate is 9.8 %. This is not unconnected to the fact that births to adolescent girls (aged 15-19 years) are as high as 14.9 %.
Since 2011, when the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, the White Ribbon Alliance, and FHI36O joined persuasive forces to advocate Nigeria’s National Council of Health, that the Federal Government adopt and enable community-based injectable contraceptives, Nigerian women and girls have been given improved access to contraceptive access and choice across all demographics. Before the policy change, community health extension workers were only allowed to provide condoms and contraceptive pills, but now women in rural communities can access injectable contraceptives, as well other methods.
It is important too, to match advocacy with front line actions, to take impact to scale, as a woman who is empowered and educated to plan and prepare for her choices in childbirth, is a woman who is educated and empowered to be productive for herself, her family, and her community – thus currently, the Well being Foundation Africa’s Mama Care Midwives, provide family planning and contraceptive advice as an integral information point at our over 5,000 Mama Care Mom And Baby Antenatal and Postnatal Education Curriculum classes delivered nationally. We have put midwives at the heart of the health solution, to deliver a crucial continuum of respectful care and counsel, and it is midwives which educate and empower expectant mothers and other midwives in the classes. Mothers are given postnatal classes where they are taught the benefits of pregnancy spacing, breastfeeding and also vital financial skills. WBFA has started to implement the Birth Preparedness Savings Scheme (BPSS) which enables women to prepare for the cost of delivery, and ensure that families are not crippled financially by spiraling emergency care costs at point of service.
On this day, let us remember the importance of family planning and freedom of choice. A woman empowered to plan and prepare for childbirth is a woman whose wellbeing is empowered.