“I want to use it for a couple of years and then maybe we will think about having another child”
Every three months, Mawoula Dahide meets a community health worker in her village in central Togo to receive a single contraceptive injection and then carries on with her busy day. Dahide, 20, has a two-and-a-half year old son and a husband living in the capital and juggles an apprenticeship in tailoring with caring for her child.
After recovering from the birth, Dahide tried the injection and immediately felt relief, knowing she would decide when she got pregnant again. “I want to use it for a couple of years and then maybe we will think about having another child,” she said.
Lack of access
Until 2013, Dahide and the other women living in the village of Ilama had no access to regular contraception at all, and its use was sometimes regarded with suspicion, and even fear. In her community, the average age of a mother’s first pregnancy is around 16, and women might bear a total of six or seven children compared to the national average of 4.7, according to local health workers.
That trend is changing with a pioneering programme run by the Association Togolaise pour le Bien-Être Familial (ATBEF), which has trained community health workers to administer contraception in the rural areas where they live. ATBEF has focused their distribution of contraceptives within poor and rural communities, and with mobile outreach clinics that go to villages with no trained health workers. The unmet need for contraception in Togo stands at 34% of the population, and in rural communities, this is even higher.
The association contributes a fifth of overall contraception cover to couples in Togo, a West Africa nation of 7.8 million people. There is a clear favourite among the methods offered, which include male and female condoms, the pill, and the contraceptive injection.
“The injection is more used than any other method. Around 60% of women use it,” said Félicité Sonhaye, ATBEF Regional Coordinator for Togo’s Plateaux region, which covers Ilama. Women appreciate the reliability and long-lasting effects of the injection, Sonhaye added, which allow them to stop worrying about unexpected pregnancies.
From client to advocate
Dahide has become an advocate for the method among her peers within her community. “My friends are getting the injection as well. I was the first to start using it and it was great, so I told them about it,” she said.
Another convert to the injection is Ilama’s village chief, Sossou Sagna. The father of seven agreed with his wife they didn’t want anymore children. “I sent my own wife to seek family planning. The lady helped us and it worked really well. I also went with my older brother’s wife and she was very satisfied,” Sagna noted in the cool of the shade. “My wife chose the three-month injection,” he added. Sagna had not anticipated some of the wider effects of increasing contraceptive use within the community, which have become prevalent over the last couple of years.
“Every member of this community is now aware that having a large family drives them towards poverty,” he said. Families have more money to spend feeding and educating their children in an economy where the cost of living keeps rising. Villagers who see Sagna attending family planning sessions are also convinced that rumours about contraception making them ill are untrue.
“Ignorance was the reason why we had so many children per family here before. Now with the family planning advice we have received, spacing births has become a reality and the reduction of the number of children per family,” he added.
The gains of the ATBEF rural programme will now go even further with the imminent introduction of Sayana Press, a contraceptive injection that women can self-administer.