A Small Step: Educating Mothers on Family Planning on Immunization Days

A Small Step: Educating Mothers on Family Planning on Immunization Days

Women learning about family planning at Bikone Health Center II, Western Uganda. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

This was my first trip to Africa working with a development agency. While I had visited the African continent for personal trips previously, arriving in this context felt different. I was immediately aware of the challenges Uganda is facing. From the crumbling road infrastructure and high incidence of traffic accidents in Kampala, to the mobile phone networks that are pretty reliable while internet access is often spotty, to the prevalence of street children --- I can for the first time see what my local colleagues are up against.

I felt a bit overwhelmed in the first few days. Is there any way we can address all these challenges? Can we make a difference?

Visiting communities and health centers in Kampala, Eastern and Western Uganda -- and seeing first-hand the impact MSH is having across the country -- quickly re-inspired me.

I had the pleasure of meeting a particularly passionate and committed Clinical Officer, Rodger Rwehandika, at Bikone Health Center II in Western Uganda. As a health center II, Bikone is an outpatient facility, but the staff of the facility can also conduct outreach programs to educate and serve the community.

Rodger and his two staff facilitate health education programs at the local schools and also host youth-friendly programs on using condoms.

On the Wednesday I visited Bikone, Mr. Rwehandika was preparing for a behavior change communication activity: using drama and discussion to educate mothers on family planning while they waited to have their children immunized. He explained to me that Wednesday is immunization day, so mothers bring their children to the facilities. He uses this opportunity to engage and educate them on family planning, reproductive health, and nutrition issues and services.

This isn't a government mandate, but something he chooses to offer his patients after attending a STRIDES for Family Health training. “I used to not have the skill set to properly counsel or administer family planning services,” he explained.

But a year ago, he attended a training facilitated by STRIDES for Family Health, a USAID-funded project led by MSH and its partners. “Now, because I learned new skills, I can do it for my clients. I can feel confident in offering long term and basic family planning services at this health center.”

Clinical Officer Rodger Rwehandika at Bikone Health Center II, Western Uganda. Photo credit: MSH.


Rodger and his staff still have challenges to overcome. For example, Bikone Health Center II struggles to maintain a reliable stock of medical supplies and medicines. He explains, “Sometimes women or men come in for family planning services or HIV testing, and I have to turn them away because I don’t have the implants or testing kits. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that they will return because they lose trust in our facility.” He and the staff are hopeful that in time these challenges will be overcome.

But Rodger has found that educating the mothers on family planning methods when they have their children immunized is an ideal way to ensure healthy mothers and children. Integrating these services is an easy thing to do, but will surely have a large impact.

It's people like Rodger -- and many other nurses, clinical officers, and midwives that I met -- that made me feel less overwhelmed. Their work at the health center level is saving lives and making a better Uganda. I can see that the coordinated work USAID is doing throughout the country is changing lives -- saving mothers, providing economic stability, educating children, and providing quality health services.

There are immense challenges in the developing world, but with every program, project, properly trained health worker and dollar invested change can happen, roadblocks can be minimized, and the tide can turn.

Margaret Hartley, Knowledge Exchange Associate at MSH, was awarded the Gadue-Niebling-Urdaneta (GNU) Memorial Fellowship. She traveled to Uganda for four weeks, visiting local health centers and NGOs to meet with organizations MSH serves.

Editor's note: MSH established the Gadue-Niebling-Urdaneta (GNU) Memorial Fund in memory of Cristi Gadue, Amy Lynn Niebling, and Carmen Urdaneta, to further the work to which these remarkable women dedicated their lives. Each year, the GNU Fellowship provides two MSH employees based in the US and globally with an international public health opportunity at another MSH location.