Mary Adhiambo lives in a small village near Nakuru, Kenya. She has a large and, for the most part, happy family: six children whom she loves and for whom she wants the absolute best. It just so happens that, in this instance, the best thing she can do for her family is to prevent it from getting any bigger — to obtain some form of contraception that will stop her from becoming pregnant again.
Her rationale behind the decision is simple: “Life is hard. I don’t want to have any more children.” She wants the option of family planning “so that I can give my children quality of life.”
Mary lives in poverty, and her access to resources and public services is greatly limited; since she cannot afford transport to the nearest health centre, whether or not she survives childbirth, just like whether or not she becomes pregnant, is more down to cruel chance than her own independent control.
Not only will additional pregnancies put a strain on Mary’s life and that of her older children, but any child she has will grow up in an environment where more than seven million children under five die every year. One third of Kenyan children this age suffer from chronic malnutrition, and the care offered to the poorest families is simply non-existent. It is easy enough to understand why Mary wants to take control of her fertility.
Recently, for the first time, this became possible. Kenyan organization “Dandelion Africa” came to Mary’s village and offered free family planning advice and treatment. After a consultation, Mary chose Implanon, a type of contraceptive implant that prevents pregnancy until it is removed months or years later. At last, Mary was able to take control of her body and her sexual health. Brimming with gratitude, she told her doctors, “I am so happy you came here.”
Mary is not alone. Statistics from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) show that some 225 million women worldwide have an “unmet need for family planning” — meaning that they want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception. In a world where there are an estimated 85 million unintended pregnancies per year, this figure has grave implications for population growth, as well as for individual reproductive rights.
Indeed, in Kenya, where the population has increased by almost a third over the past 10 years alone, already-limited public services are being stretched to breaking point by an ever-growing number of users. Only 30 per cent of the population has access to piped water, and the slum population has a growth rate of five per cent per year. All of these are problems that access to family planning and a fall in population growth could ameliorate.
Yet these shocking figures disguise the brutal reality of each case. Every woman given the chance to choose will, like Mary, be able to live a safer and more comfortable life as a result. Organizations like Dandelion Africa, which are doing their part to make this possible, need and deserve our support.
Mary’s story was provided to us by Dandelion Africa.