Jun 302013

On the 28th of May every year, the world commemorates the Day of Action
for Women’s Health, with the 2013 event being marked by a specific call to
action, themed “Contraception is a Human Right.” In Ghana, the Medical Women’s
Association of Ghana (MWAG) has embarked upon a series of health promotion and advocacy
initiatives to promote contraceptive use while highlighting various barriers
that prevent Ghanaian women from fully accessing care.


“The Day of Action for Women’s Health is important for women doctors because it is a
reminder that empathy is not enough. Women doctors need to translate that
empathy into better health care for women in whichever specialty they practice.
The Medical Women’s Association of Ghana (MWAG) exists to bring to the
attention of the medical community and the public at large, health
interventions that directly improve the quality of life of women” passionately
argues Dr. Charlotte Gardiner, Secretary to the Association.


According to Ghana’s 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, over 98% of men and women know
at least one method of contraception. This knowledge is however at its lowest
among poor and rural women. As is often the case, the gaps between knowledge
and use is huge with only 50% of women reporting having used one method at some
time with 42% using a modern method, commonly male condom, and 25% using a
natural method, commonly rhythm method. It is also noted that although
contraceptive use is higher among men than women, more men use traditional
methods like rhythm and withdrawal. Further, women with some secondary
education have been found to be twice as likely to use contraception compared
to women with no education. The Northern region has the lowest prevalence rate
at 6%


If natural methods of contraception represent the simplest most available forms,
then ignorance in this area should be a worrying bottleneck. While knowing safe
periods of a woman’s ovulatory cycle is fundamental to these natural methods,
as many as 52% of women wrongly believed that the fertile period is right after
a woman’s period had ended, or did not know which period of the ovulatory cycle
represented safe periods and which represented a woman’s most fertile period or
believed that there is no specific time in a woman’s cycle when she was most
likely to get pregnant after sex. Of course typically, health workers teach
that if the first day of bleeding represents the first day of the ovulatory
cycle, then if one continues counting the days from there, days twelve to
sixteen represent the most fertile periods of a woman’s cycle during which
chances of pregnancy are greatly enhanced.


Among MWAG’s objective is to tackling the underlying reasons for non/limited use.
Among these are fears of the side effects, personal opposition to family
planning, opposition from partners, concerns that some methods may lead to
reduced fertility while among reasons why women do not intend to use family
planning is the desire for more children. According to the DHS, “Only small
proportions of women cited lack of knowledge of methods, lack of access, or
cost as the main reason they do not intend to use family planning.”


It is into these reasons that MWAG has sought to strategically integrate its
interventions as Dr. Gardiner explains that “This day, May 28, 2013 should be
important to Ghanaian women because national statistics show that while use of
contraceptives is very low, unmet need for family planning is high and unsafe
abortion (a result of unwanted pregnancy and inadequate health care) is a major
cause of maternal mortality.  Belief systems (religious and traditional)
are the basis of stigma attached to the use of contraceptives in some
communities in Ghana. The 2013 Call to Action “Contraception is a Human
confronts these reservations couples have regarding the use of
contraceptives and promotes evidence- based encouragement to women to overcome
these fears and take the necessary action to meet their reproductive choices. ”


To mark the day, the Medical Women’s Association of Ghana organized interactive
sessions with its members in Accra and Kumasi during which women doctors were
encouraged to integrate counseling on contraceptive use in their consultations.
Additionally, women doctors were themselves advised to use the opportunity to increase
their knowledge about contraceptives and to make a renewed commitment to
ensuring that their clients are motivated and enabled to access appropriate
contraceptive care for improved care.

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