IMA World Health/Mme Yvette Mulongo

New ideas can seem intimidating and even threatening, and for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Eastern Oriental province, the “foreign” idea of using modern contraceptives was slow to catch on. But thanks to one local Pygmy woman, IMA World Health is experiencing increased success in introducing modern family planning methods to hundreds of families in the Lolwa and Komanda health zones.

pygmy 250More than 120,000 people live in this region, and almost half of the population is Pygmy. The Pygmies in this area lead a very rudimentary lifestyle, usually adhering loyally to the traditional, mystical values of their ancestors. Focus groups have shown that these villages are particularly hostile to adopting modern methods of birth control because they prefer the way their ancestors prevented unwanted pregnancies – involving the use of tree bark and other unproven traditional remedies.

The results of these choices are easy to predict: pregnancies occur too close together, women’s bodies are overtaxed and they are experiencing ill-health, injury and even death in high numbers.

Through the USAID-funded Women’s Leadership Project in this region of DRC, IMA World Health uses social and behavior change communication (SBCC) methods to promote safer and more effective birth control practices in the local villages. The goal is to change behaviors surrounding the use of birth control by offering consistent, correct and clear educational messages on the importance of adequate birth spacing, while reducing stigmas associated with new medical advances. Ultimately, a goal of the project is to increase the length of time between pregnancies – a healthier practice leading to better outcomes for mothers, babies and families.

In December 2012, IMA staff began to notice a surprising increase in the number of Pygmy women using new methods of birth control. Upon investigation, IMA was surprised and happy to learn that a local Pygmy woman – whom IMA had counseled in October through the Women’s Leadership program – was championing the cause for modern contraceptives among her peers. Who better to reinforce these messages than a member of the local community?

Using her own first-hand experience using the reversible contraceptive implant (Jadelle) as her motivation, the woman (whose name has been withheld) was actively spreading her message among her friends and neighbors. In her own words, which resonated with the men and women in her village, “The white contraceptive magic is very effective.”

Thanks to her efforts and outspoken support of the new family planning methods, now there is a waiting list in her village for contraceptives such as Depo-Provera shots, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants.

As has been proven time and again, one person can make an enormous difference. IMA is grateful for and inspired by the boldness of this one woman whose conviction and courage are saving and improving the lives of others in her village.