#Formnigani: Contraceptive and Covid-19

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The closure of colleges and universities has seen an estimated 16.7% of young Kenyans lose access to free contraceptives, with a further 13.3% reporting a shortage of male condoms in government health facilities.

Disruptions in services, from closure of some contraception access points to shortages in supplies, together with measures taken to curb the pandemic are contributing to the faltering of family planning programmes in the country. 

 #formnigani, a creative movement led by young Kenyans advocating for national conversation on contraception in Kenya, conducted a survey of 1400 young Kenyans in March, 92% of whom felt that family planning is important to their own futures as well as the future of Kenya. This new report elaborates on the critical issues and decisions surrounding contraception during C19, with 53% of the young Kenyans reporting they were experiencing challenges in accessing contraception as the pharmacies they frequented were either closed or operating on greatly reduced opening times down during the pandemic. 

Leading Kenyan futures expert, Dr. Katindi Sivi, who facilitated the scenarios development in the COVID-19 and Contraception report says, “COVID-19 like other health issues has highlighted the challenges that have long existed in our healthcare system, from universal healthcare to access to contraception. It is bound to magnify the impact of an insufficient health system, which has a long-lasting impact on our society and economy.” 

Findings detailed in the report come against a backdrop of already alarming outcomes linked to low contraception among Kenyans, including high maternal deaths with an estimated 6,300 women dying annually during pregnancy and childbirth primarily due to unplanned pregnancies. In Kenya, 42% of pregnancies are unintended, according to a 2019 study by Performance Monitoring for Action, a statistic that could rise because of the pandemic.

Already, as a result of barriers to accessing contraception information and methods, Kenya finds itself facing an avoidable maternal health crisis that has in recent years seen the country lose 7 women daily (2,600 annually) to unsafe abortions, most of which are as a result of unplanned pregnancies.

 In a predominantly youthful country, with 74% of Kenyans under the age of 35 (according to the National Council for Population Development), the pandemic is bound to have a disproportionate impact on young Kenyans. According to the COVID-19 and Contraception report, the pandemic, and associated mitigation measures, has had a financial impact on 50% of young Kenyans in the form of loss of business income, loss of employment or mandatory unpaid leave.

 “In this new reality, a higher number of Kenyan youth whose contraception needs were previously being met may find themselves among the underserved or marginalized as new factors play a greater role in influencing access and usage. Reduction and loss of income, for example, mean that individual priorities and attitudes change if uncertainties persist,” said Andy Awiti, strategy consultant and a participant of the #formnigani Think Tanks.

 In the development of the COVID-19 and Contraception report, Kenyan youth identified key drivers of contraception to include global influence, innovation and the state of the health system – most influential in shaping contraception in Kenya during the pandemic and beyond. The report paints a picture of the state of contraception in the near and long term future, including worst case, moderate and best possible scenarios for contraception in Kenya. It is for this reason that young Kenyans find it imperative that steps are taken to mitigate against the low access to contraception during and beyond the current health crisis. 

 For young Kenyans, the role of contraception in achieving individual and national goals cannot be overstated. The achievement of sustainable and equitable development through access to quality family planning services cannot remain an afterthought, but a key driver, and this is only feasible if we address the gaps that contribute to unmet needs among Kenyans.

 The COVID-19 and Contraception report also includes a minimum quality standard (MQS) framework, which outlines critical actions for the achievement of the best-case scenario. In this framework, key contraception reforms vital for Kenya’s future include a community based, population approach to contraception policy and financing that seeks to include the most vulnerable, a contraception supply chain anchored on offering expanded choice of methods, and an SRH system that benefits from the synchrony between health facilities and outreach initiatives.