Population Health Environment

Integrated Community Conservation and Development for a Healthy Population around Bwindi Conservation Area.

Population density and growth have an immense impact on conservation and development. There is a critical need for family planning and reproductive health services in Uganda where the fertility rate in rural areas remains high at 7.1 children per woman (with a national average of 6.7). It is estimated that less than 25% of all married women use contraceptives or other family planning methods resulting in a steady growing population and an increasing pressure on the ecological system and natural resources. There are many barriers for effective family planning in the Bwindi area and Kanungu District such as few and under-financed health centres,poor service delivery and limited awareness of sexual and reproductive health among the population in general and among the youth in particular. Furthermore, myths and misconceptions about contraceptives have created fear of infertility and other suspected side effects, as well as conservative cultural and religious beliefs hinder many families and unmarried women in preventing unwanted pregnancies.

BMCT works through the Population Health Environment programme to unite reproductive health, conservation and development partners to increase access to family planning services, and to improve conservation friendly livelihoods. The programme builds capacity among community change agents and health workers to improve service delivery and it raises awareness of reproductive health issues among youth, women and men for improved family health and sustainable development.

Creating Synergy

BMCT works to unite conservation, development and health stakeholders to create synergy for sustainable development. By establishing linkage mechanisms between community members, family planning service providers, and development and conservation groups, population health environment activities will be integrated and activities coordinated without wasting unnecessary resources on duplications. This year, BMCT has conducted a baseline survey in the target area to map the existing knowledge level and practices among the population and the various stakeholders, and to identify current interventions and gaps. The baseline data will be shared at stakeholders’ dialogue meetings and used for further planning.

Building capacity

One of the biggest challenges for delivery of family planning and reproductive health services to community members in rural areas like Kanungu District, is lack of capacity. The health units are few and hard to access for people living in very remote areas, which deepens the already existing communication gap between service providers and potential clients. As a result, a large proportion of the population does not receive any counselling on family planning and are thus unable to make informed decisions regarding choice of contraceptive methods.

BMCT builds capacity by training community change agents and health workers from health units in Kanungu District to deliver good quality services to communities for improved family health and development.

BMCT has put in place a team of professionals already working in the district and use community change agents currently engaged within the communities through BMCT’s other programmes. Their primary role is to ensure that up-to-date information about existing family planning services reaches all relevant stakeholders – especially women, youths and the indigenous Batwa people.

BMCT actively involves the whole family as a unit to ensure that men and women are equally informed and capable of making the right family planning decisions. This is fundamental because most women in Uganda do not control their sexual and reproductive health choices as it is up to their male partners to decide which contraceptive methods their partners should use.

Creating awareness

BMCT raises awareness about reproductive health among women, men and youth in all target ares – including school going children, school drop-outs and teenage mothers. Information about family planning is in general limited but it is particularly restricted for young people aged 15-30 years who do not relate to the current family planning services which they perceive to only concern married couples. To ensure that information reaches all community members, BMCT has held educative radio talk shows and trained drama groups in disseminating key messages about family planning and reproductive health. Additionally, the programme uses the VSLA methodology as an entry point for community mobilisation and information dissemination. VSLA members meet once a week and to save, which makes them easily accessible for community change agents and BMCT staff. Through VSLA meetings members have learned about contraceptives, the advantages of having manageable families, and the importance of environmental conservation.