Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Achieving success with family planning in rural Afghanistan

Douglas Huber, Nika Saeedi & Abdul Khalil Samadi

Problem

Afghan women have one of the world’s highest lifetime risks of maternal death. Years of conflict have devastated the country’s health infrastructure. Total fertility was one of the world’s highest, contraceptive use was low and there were no Afghan models of success for family planning.

Approach

We worked closely with communities, providing information about the safety and non-harmful side-effects of contraceptives and improving access to injectable contraceptives, pills and condoms. Regular interaction with community leaders, mullahs (religious leaders), clinicians, community health workers and couples led to culturally acceptable innovations. A positive view of birth spacing was created by the messages that contraceptive use is 300 times safer than pregnancy in Afghanistan and that the Quran (the holy book of Islam) promotes two years of breastfeeding. Community health workers initiated the use of injectable contraceptives for the first time.

Local setting

The non-for-profit organization, Management Sciences for Health, Afghan nongovernmental organizations and the Ministry of Public Health implemented the Accelerating Contraceptive Use project in three rural areas with different ethnic populations.

Relevant changes

The contraceptive prevalence rate increased by 24–27% in 8 months in the project areas. Men supported modern contraceptives once they understood contraceptive safety, effectiveness and non-harmful side-effects. Injectable contraceptives contributed most to increases in contraceptive use.

Lessons learnt

Community health workers can rapidly increase contraceptive use in rural areas when given responsibility and guidance. Project innovations were adopted as best practices for national scale-up.

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