In Nigeria, promoting reproductive health and dispelling myths about it are twins’ goals of the Center for Development and Population Activities, CEDPA. The NGO works with community leaders to get accurate information to the public. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Isiyaku Ahmed in Abuja reports that scientists note the importance of tradition and myths in holding communities and generations together. But sometimes misconceptions are passed down from generation to generation and health specialists say these can be harmful, at least when they prevent people from getting good health care.
In the north there’s a root in the shape of a hand called “hannu.” It’s soaked in a pot or bowl of water. If the root opens while in the pot, it’s a sign that the childbirth will be safe. It is also said that a woman can have easy delivery if she consumes a drink from the “hannu” root.
Ejiro Joyce Otive-Igbuzor is the country director for the Center for development and Population Activities, CEDPA, in Abuja. The group provides accurate reproductive health information to local communities in a region where one in ten women die giving birth. Otive-Igbuzor says “As you know ignorance is a killer – there are many myths and misconceptions that abound in our communities.”
For example, in the northern community of Chedi in northern Kano state, a woman does not give birth in any structure with a roof. If she does, according to a traditional saying, she will have a difficult labor or even die.
According to another saying, the child of a pregnant woman who eats eggs will be greedy. But eggs are a good supply of protein, which people need to stay healthy.
Otive-Igbuzor says CEDPA works with community groups to provide accurate information about women’s bodies and about modern family planning methods. While CEDPA helps provide the information, it’s the local NGOs that have a closer link with the villagers. Otive-Igbuzor says,“At CEDPA we believe that power resides within the community; community members do not lack the power to find their own solution. What we simply do is to provide factual information, strengthen the people’s ability to take decisions over their own lives.”
She also says local NGOs work with local religious leaders with whom they agree that “sexuality is God-given.” The community groups use a number of methods to reach the public, including home visits. Otive-Igbuzor says, “Some engage in community mobilization: they organize road shows; they organize rallies. Sometimes we work with the media to implement projects that will create more awareness about the need to use modern family planning methods and about the need to patronize hospitals, especially in pregnancy.”
She says over the years, CEDPA has produced results. One of its success stories took place in Chedi village, where women refuse to deliver children in buildings with roofs. Ejiro Otive-Igbuzor says the wife of one of CEDPA’s community advocates became pregnant. The couple decided to have the baby delivered in a hospital, even though they were worried that if the saying were true, the mother and child would die. Today, the baby is hale and hearty, as other Chedi children will be, say health specialists, if their mothers come the hospital with the roof.