Health workers in northern
Nigeria say a lack of information and awareness has led to poor family planning
practices in the region. Voice of America English to Africa Service’s Isiyaku
Ahmed in Kano explains that family planning is a way of limiting a family size
and the intervals between childbearing either through natural methods or with
Many women have come to the
Planned Parenthood Federation center in the northern Nigerian town of Kano. It’s one of many family planning centers in the town that provides
counseling for couples on family planning methods.
Maryam Musa is a senior
counselor at the center. This morning she is talking with married women. This
is the first visit for some of them, and many are nervous. She describes the counseling process:
“There are steps that we
take and there is an acronym that we use which will help the provider to be
able to follow the counseling steps correctly—that is GATHER. G stands for greet, that is
when the client comes, you greet her, create rapport, make her comfortable so
that she will be able to explain whatever you ask her. A stands for ask. You ask the client why she
is there and of course you will expect her to tell you why she is at the
clinic. The T stands for tell. You tell her the kind of services that you
Musa says other parts of the
acronym GATHER are; H for helping the client to pick a child spacing method
that suits her and her husband; E is for explaining how each method works, and
its possible effects. Finally, R stands
for referring people who need a more sophisticated planning method to
specialized clinics or a hospital.”
Musa describes issues that
prevent some couples in northern Nigeria from getting help with family
planning, “Some women want it [family planning] but they don’t know where to
access the service and another big challenge is the men; some of them don’t
want it, and a woman cannot come out and access the service unless her husband
Musa says people need to be
educated in order to appreciate the benefits of family planning, or
the methods, of which there are several.
She explains that
breastfeeding delays menstruation. If a woman continues to breastfeed for several
months, then she should have a little over a year before she ovulates and is
ready to conceive again. The benefit of this delay is that it allows her body
to recover from the previous birth.
Musa says this method is
less familiar than another traditional way of preventing births in northern
Nigeria – taking the woman to her maternal home to give birth. She stays there
until the baby is weaned and then returns to her husband.
In addition to continued
breastfeeding, couples can also use contraception.
She says there are
contraceptive choices ranging from pills to tablets that a woman can swallow to
ones that can be injected. Otherwise, like the IUD [Intrauterine device], is
inserted into the woman’s womb.
Finally, men can also
undergo a surgical procedure called a vasectomy which makes them sterile – an
operation that can usually be reversed.
Musa says there’s another
reason couples don’t know much about modern family planning methods in northern
Nigeria, “The thing that killed family planning in the north was the
translation given to it. When family planning [was advertised], they translated
it as ‘Kaiyadde iyali’. Kaiyadde Iyali means limiting birth and when they
brought it to the north, people frown[ed] at it. They said who are you to limit
Many northerners believe the
Muslim holy book, the Koran, is against limiting birth. They refer to a verse
that says Allah (God) will provide for all children.
Professor Oladapo Ladipo is
the president of the Association for Reproductive Health and Family Planning in
Nigeria. He says another issue is the
widespread belief that modern family planning is a concept imported from the
West. “The other reason is religious. [Strict] religions like Catholicism, for
example, do not [embrace] any of these modern methods.”
He says countries that have
adopted modern family planning methods are reaping the benefits and have
reduced maternal deaths:
“I give you an example - the
Islamic Republic of Iran that had a high national mortality rate after the
revolution. They sought the [methods from] records across the globe. The only
[scientific] method of reducing that mortality they found…was family planning.
And they sold the concept of family planning to their citizens. So [the]
government has to sell it, the health benefits ought to be promoted and there
are many benefits other than just reducing maternal deaths.”
He says Nigerians enjoy
large families. For example in the 2003 national demographic survey, it showed
that the average Nigerian woman has between five and seven children.
The Planned Parenthood
Federation of Nigeria sends health care workers from house to house and even to
places of employment to educate men and women about their options.
group says even if Nigerians prefer a number of children, with family planning
at least the health of the mother and child can be ensured.