Donation of Bicycles Increases Family Planning Outreach in Democratic Republic of Congo

For many people in rural communities in the developing world, information about contraceptives comes from community-based distribution agents, locally-based individuals trained in family planning, who frequently face challenges that a local pharmacist doesn't: a skeptical group of potential consumers and geographical challenges -- including poor roads and a lack of public transportation -- often compounded by extreme weather.

This situation was the reality for community-based distribution agents in the health zone of Ndekesha in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are many barriers to the use of family planning methods in the DRC, including a lack of awareness and information about contraception in general, as well as a lack of access to contraceptives due to many people living in widely dispersed areas without a convenient health center. Locally-based distribution agents visit these far-flung residents, walking many miles under the hot African sun to counsel men and women about their family planning options, and provide contraceptive supplies to those who have already chosen a method.

"I have a great appreciation for the community-based distribution agents, because they have to overcome barriers related to local customs, a lack of awareness, and the belief that having many children is an asset to a family," said Dr. Charles Kabasele, the chief medical officer of the Ndekesha health zone since 2008.

In Ndekesha, 48 community-based distribution agents were trained in contraceptive counseling in 2009, and have been visiting anywhere between 300-450 residents per month to counsel them about family planning options and provide contraceptives. In August 2011, the USAID-funded Democratic Republic of Congo-Integrated Health Project (DRC-IHP), led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) in partnership with The International Rescue Committee and Overseas Strategic Consulting, donated 11 bicycles to the distribution agents of Ndekesha, with the goal of increasing the number of people reached by their services every month.

In September, the first month following the donation, the number of visits made by distribution agents totaled 878, an increase of 157 percent over the prior month's 341 visits.

The community-based distribution agents are pleased with the bikes. Martin Mutombo, a local teacher who has been supporting family planning efforts in Ndekesha for five years, said, "The bikes give us a sense of pride, and give us more recognition in the community."

Calling the donation of bikes a "breath of fresh air," Dr. Kabasale commented on the difference the donation has made. "The number of visits has increased and therefore so has the number of new acceptors of family planning methods."

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