In February 2015, the African Christian Health Associations Platform (ACHAP) convened its biennial conference in Nairobi, Kenya. ACHAP has demonstrated a growing interest in strengthening the family planning programs of its member organizations—Christian Health Associations across Africa—which provide significant percentages of health services in their respective countries. For example, in Uganda 20% of health facilities and 70% of health training institutions are operated by faith-based health networks!
IRH, alongside Christian Connections for International Health and the E2A Project, hosted a pre-conference workshop on family planning for ACHAP members and other faith-based organizations (FBO). Two primary objectives of the workshop were to (1) contribute to advancing constructive dialogue on family planning from a faith-based perspective, and (2) share successes and challenges related to improving family planning services among ACHAP members.
During the workshop, Christian Health Associations in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda shared lessons on how they have improved access to family planning in their communities, including how they have engaged religious leaders. Each organization demonstrated strong progress in expanding access through community-based distributers, involving men in service delivery, improving quality of programs, and increasing method uptake among new users.
A lively panel discussion was held with religious leaders from around the region who candidly shared their stories of integrating family planning messages into their work. One pastor from Kenya put it this way: “We [religious leaders] need to speak about family planning because God was the best family planner. He took five days to form the earth and ensure the resources were there for his children. Because we are created in his image, we need to also plan.”
Panelists expressed appreciation for training received on family planning but requested more be done. There is a need for additional training and tools to help them in community sensitization, particularly regarding addressing myths and misconceptions and reaching out to youth and men.
Recognizing that access to family planning plays an important role in improving the health of families in their communities, participating FBOs affirmed their support for two global calls to action:
- Interfaith Declaration to Improve Family Wellbeing, 2011
- A Call to Action Faith for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights Post 2015 Development Agenda, 2014
By the end of the day, participants pledged even more action and committed to:
- Strengthen data collection and reporting of family planning indicators
- Support religious leaders and community health workers through regular updates and supervision
- Strengthen family planning and reproductive health information and services for youth (e.g. have youth corners at facilities)
- Increase male involvement through organized community and church meetings
- Create opportunities for religious leaders to share different perspectives and practices on family planning sensitization for replication and scale-up
- Strengthen capacity of Catholic providers to offer fertility awareness methods of family planning in health facilities and communities
- Sustain advocacy with country governments and donors to access support for family planning activities
FBOs, particularly Christian Health Associations across Africa, play a critical role in ensuring that women and men are able to plan their families and have healthy and promising futures. IRH commends ACHAP for their efforts to bring essential health services, including family planning, to communities across Africa.