Kunu Fahnbulleh. Photo: Jhpiego
This blog was originally published by MCHIP. Written by Comfort Gebeh.
In an effort to improve demand for family planning (FP) in Liberia, USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) is bringing information and services closer to the community. And while the Program continues to employ traditional methods to improve FP services and demand—such as training providers and strengthening their skills—staff are also working with market peer providers, barber shop and beauty salon workers, and religious leaders to help spread key messages.
Since work began with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in 2009, 331,000 women have accepted a FP method and health care access and quality have improved for more than 3.2 million Liberians. Religious leaders have proved particularly effective in these efforts, reaching their congregations to dispel misconceptions, increase awareness of teenage pregnancy, and generally improve uptake of FP services.
MCHIP worked with these leaders to develop sermon guides, which provide religious texts to support messages about healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy for the benefit of both mothers and children. Staff also worked with religious leaders to address cultural practices and accessibility issues, focusing on prevention of teen pregnancy and the low use of modern contraception methods.
After the first workshop with religious leaders, representatives from PLUM—Liberia Muslims United for Progress, a Muslim organization in Monrovia—approached MCHIP about using the adapted messages in eight neighborhoods to conduct community health education awareness. PLUM’s Kunu Fahnbulleh says FP in Liberia was formally embraced across religious groups after the MCHIP workshop: “Muslims who hadn’t shown interest in FP on account of traditional beliefs participated in this workshop alongside the Christians,” he said. “[They] became more involved in active FP counseling and services by creating awareness of FP with the promotion of the use of modern contraceptives.”
Working with a MCHIP mentor, Fahnbulleh supervised 160 MCHIP-trained community mobilizers—youth, women and men—in creating awareness of the importance of healthy timing and spacing of births, and the risks associated with teenage pregnancy. Supervision, monitoring and mentoring activities were conducted by MCHIP and PLUM, including monthly meetings for sharing experiences and answering questions. Talking one-on-one, these volunteers ultimately reached 6,233 community members with key FP messages, referring many to the nearest facilities for FP counseling and services, as well, and earning the respect of local imams.
“We get thanks every day for helping to save the lives of our people, especially the youth,” said Fahnbulleh of the community outreach efforts.