By Michael Gwarisa
CHURCHES in Zimbabwe are gradually embracing family planning and reproductive health initiatives including condoms, as the country moves towards reducing high fertility and the high teenage pregnancies cases that have rocked the country, HealthTimes has learnt.
Apostolic sects and other churches have traditionally been known for being breeding grounds for underage marriages and teenage pregnancies owing to their beliefs which allow them to marry multiple “virgin” wives.
Also Read: Zim Beats Global Family Planning target
Responding to a question during a Media Sensitisation Meeting on Adolescents Sexual Reproductive Health (ASRH), Save the Children Zimbabwe Programs Manager Linile Malunga said religious groups were responding well to sexual reproductive health issues as evidenced by the huge numbers of women from Apostolic sects who are now taking family planning and contraceptive methods.
“If you look at Mashonaland central for example, we are working with church leaders so that we hold sensitisation meetings like these ones. We are working with traditional leaders, church leaders and other community leaders and a lot of facets on the ground to ensure we all support adolescents on reproductive health issues.
“On condoms, you wont even believe it, in as much as most churches are against the issue, they are coming for contraceptives including condoms. If you approach them as a group they might all say no we don’t want condoms but the same people come in the thick of the night away from the public eye to say please may we have some condoms, blood transfusions or even contraceptive pills and we help them,” said Malunga.
Church leaders in Zimbabwe have been at the forefront of de-campaigning condoms and other contraceptives, labeling them objects of the devil but the increase in AIDS mortality in the country seem to have woken them up from their slumber.
“Even some who used to say they don’t go to hospitals to seek medical attention have now changed probably after seeing the multitudes who are dying as a result of curable ailments. Even some are now coming to health care centres to deliver, something that wasn’t the case before.
“However, what they don’t want is for you to spread the message in communities that so and so came to our centre to get treatment. For us, as long as we have saved a life, we don’t care weather they go home at dawn, we make use of village health workers to follow them up,” added Malunga.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) Provincial Marketing and Communications Officer Percival Kushure said the issue of high fertility and teenage pregnancies was worrisome especially in Rushinga and they were using advocacy as a key tool to educate the communities on safe family planning methods and contraceptives.
“The key strategic pillar of enabling environment is advocacy which is one one of the main strategies we are working on to ensure that we cover all these sectors for instance, starting from mid August, we will be having advocacy campaigns with religious leaders in Mashonalnd central.
“We will team up with stakeholders, we have already organised so we are just waiting for some logistical issues to be rectified but they have all agreed. Even the Apostolic Faith has agreed and are starting to understand. However, some of these groups like Apostolic Faith, they need to be engaged on their own and discuss.
“But the women are now taking up contraceptives like Jadelle and implants, we are looking forward to seeing an increase in women taking the Intra Utra Contraceptive Device (IUCD) which lasts for about 12 years. The men are slowly accepting issues of condoms but the women, their response is overwhelming,” said Kushure.
Kushure however added that men were still reluctant to take up vasectomy.