March 21, 2018

Family planning in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: encouraging momentum, formidable challenges

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Authors: Dieudonné Kwete, Arsene Binanga, Thibaut Mukaba, Théophile Nemuandjare, Muanda Fidele Mbadu, Marie-Thérèse Kyungu, Perri Sutton, Jane T Bertrand

Journal: Global Health: Science and Practice, 6(1). March 2018

Momentum for family planning in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is evident in multiple ways: strong political will, increasing donor support, a growing number of implementing organizations, innovative family planning programming, and a cohesive family planning stakeholder group. Between 2013 and 2017, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate (mCPR) in the capital city of Kinshasa increased from 18.5% to 26.7% among married women, but as of 2013–14, it was only 7.8% at the national level. The National Multisectoral Strategic Plan for Family Planning: 2014–2020 calls for achieving an mCPR of 19.0% by 2020, an ambitious goal in light of formidable challenges to family planning in the DRC. Of the 16,465 health facilities reporting to the national health information system in 2017, only 40% offer family planning services. Key challenges include uncertainty over the political situation, difficulties of ensuring access to family planning services in a vast country with a weak transportation infrastructure, funding shortfalls for procuring adequate quantities of contraceptives, weak contraceptive logistics and supply chain management, strong cultural norms that favor large families, and low capacity of the population to pay for contraceptive services.

This article describes promising initiatives designed to address these barriers, consistent with the World Health Organization's framework for health systems strengthening. For example, the national family planning coordinating mechanism is being replicated at the provincial level to oversee the expansion of family planning service delivery. Promising initiatives are being implemented to improve the supply and quality of services and generate demand for family planning, including social marketing of subsidized contraceptives at both traditional and non-traditional channels and strengthening of services in military health facilities. To expand contraceptive access, family planning is being institutionalized in nursing schools, allowing students to operate as community-based distributors. While major challenges remain, significant progress in family planning has been made in the DRC, which should be judged not in comparison with sub-Saharan African countries with high mCPR and mature programs, but rather with those starting from much further behind.

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