“Closing the Gap: The potential of Christian Health Associations in expanding access to family planning” is a new article published in a special issue of the Christian Journal for Global Health focused on the global church and family planning. The article features three Christian health networks—Caritas Rwanda, Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau, and Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau—which achieved dramatic improvements in their ability to meet women’s and couples’ family planning needs.
Healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies has been shown to improve health outcomes and reduce both maternal and child mortality, particularly in low resource settings. Recognizing firsthand the toll that closely spaced births takes on families and communities, these faith-based organizations (FBO)—two Catholic and one Protestant—embarked on a two-year project to strengthen their family planning programs with the support of Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health under the A3 Project.
Findings from an evaluation of the intervention demonstrate that faith-based health networks have the potential to meaningfully contribute to family planning outcomes, and they are willing and able to do so with capacity strengthening. Traditionally, FBOs have played a critical role in healthcare delivery across many African countries. However, family planning services in these facilities have been limited. By improving staff capacity, expanding the method mix with modern natural options, and strengthening the wider health system, these FBOs saw dramatic improvements in family planning uptake.
Catholic health networks in particular have a wide reach in many African countries, but they are providing few to no family planning services. The experience of Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau and Caritas Rwanda reveal that offering effective, modern fertility awareness methods presents a culturally appropriate way to contribute to national and international family planning goals. Furthermore, a demand for fertility awareness methods was also seen in Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau sites and has been previously documented in Muslim populations, signaling broad acceptability across faith communities.
The evaluation reveals that FBOs did face challenges being seen as credible and active partners in national efforts to reduce unmet need for family planning. However, through improved reporting of their family planning services and collaboration with key stakeholders like the Ministry of Health, recognition improved regarding their role in helping women and couples to plan if, when, and how many children to have.
Dr. Ronald Kasyaba, Assistant Executive Secretary of the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau and a co-author of the article, shares, “I have learned that there is huge demand for family planning services in the communities served by UCMB health facilities.” He explains, “It’s important for Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau to get involved in family planning to broaden the scope of services provided by Catholic health services in Uganda and appropriately offer integrated Reproductive, Maternal & Adolescent Health services to consumers of its services.”