In Kenya and many parts of the world, family planning is mostly considered a woman’s responsibility. Procedures that affect men, like vasectomies, are often shunned and stigmatized. But in Kenya, vasectomies are slowly gaining acceptance.
In April, a group of doctors performed about 70 free vasectomies on men in Nairobi.
Dr. Charles Ochieng was part of the team. He says 70 seemed like a low turnout, but that figure indicated progress.
“Vasectomy is not very popular, not just in Kenya but in sub-Saharan Africa. I think the prevalence rate could be now at 1.4 percent so we are trying to create awareness so that more men can be able to adopt it," Ochieng said.
A vasectomy involves closing the tubes that carry sperm from the man’s testicles. This means there is no sperm to fertilize the woman’s egg during sex. The procedure takes about 15 minutes, and is one of the most effective methods of contraception with the failure rate estimated at one man in every 2,000.
Ochieng said more men are becoming open to the procedure.
“Most of them are motivated because probably the side effects of the other conventional family planning methods on the health of their wives, or maybe their wives have undergone very difficult labor pains and deliveries.... The other reason is that some men have had the number of children they want, like some have had two, three and they feel that’s enough and they want to take personal responsibility for family planning," Ochieng said.
Kevin Baraka Mwali, a father of three, had a vasectomy in January.
"I have seen my wife struggle. Before we tried different methods of family planning and they had a lot of side effects. First of all we have had enough babies and it’s a sacrifice to my wife,” Mwali said.
According to Ochieng, another misconception surrounding the procedure is that it reduces a man's sex drive and sexual satisfaction.
“Not many men know exactly what vasectomy is all about. They do not know that the modern vasectomy we do is a very intelligent way of manipulating a man’s reproductive system so that he can continue enjoying sex, he can continue working as normally as he used to, but the only thing now he cannot have unplanned and unwanted pregnancy," Ochieng said.
A vasectomy is considered advantageous compared with other contraceptive methods because it is permanent and has no physical side effects for the man, other than preventing him from getting his partner pregnant.
Mwali, now an advocate for the procedure, said that for him and his wife it was a win-win.
“To me, vasectomy is a simple procedure compared to other methods of family planning. My wife is happier, there are no chemicals in her body and I feel it’s the safest method for her for family planning. I think more African men should embrace this method of family planning. It's safer than other methods of family planning,” Mwali said.
A 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey indicated that contraceptive use in Kenya has contributed to a decrease in fertility rates, from 4.6 to 3.9 children per woman.