Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Myths Surrounding Male Circumcision, Family Planning In Lunga

By Paul Shalala in Lunga
Ms Kabanshi speaking in church - Pictures by Osward Halupepe

It is an area which is isolated from the rest of the country due to its location.

Access to Lunga District in Luapula Province is either by boat or by air.

This is because the islands which make up Lunga are completely surrounded by Lake Bangweulu.

And this isolation has somehow led to a situation were residents resist change.

People here are against modern ways of life and even taking pregnant women to a health center for delivery is a big gamble.

In October, a consortium of civil society organisations involved in sexual reproductive health issues together with experts from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Community Development camped for a month in Lunga to offer health services.

Among the organisations in the consortium were Marie Stopes International and Society for Family Health (SFH).

Marie Stopes was in the area to conduct male circumcisions but only one person showed up and almost all men shunned the service due to superstitions.

Many people in the area suspect male circumcision to be satanic or part of a business venture.

“We do not have circumcision in our culture here. So its foreign. We heir when forskins are cut, they are used to make sausage and some people have said circumcision is being used by Satanists,” said Chanda Leo, a local resident.

This rejection of male circumcision was confirmed even by the civil society organisations who only managed to circumcise one person who himself came under the cover of darkness to avoid public shame.

Luapula Member of Parliament Emerine Kabanshi recently embarked on a difficult task of convincing people in her constituency to adopt modern sexual reproductive services as opposed to traditional methods.

Ms Kabanshi toured her constituency to sensitise people on male circumcision and family planning and she saw for herself how her motherland is still resisting latest health interventions.

She flew to all the major islands and met chiefs, pupils and local residents and explained why male circumcision is being promoted as a way of fighting HIV and AIDS.
Ms Kabanshi talking to Chief Kasoma Lunga about circumcision

Ms Kabanshi, who is also Community Development Minister, wore a male circumcision t-shirt during her tour to raise awareness about the need for men to consider what is commonly referred to as MC.

Her first port of call was the Kasoma Lunga Catholic Church were she took advantage of mass on a Sunday and ‘evangelised’ to hundreds of congregants over health issues.

Later she visited Chief Bwalya Mponda who told her there was more need for sensitisation over health issues.

“My people are rejecting male circumcision because they do not know its benefits. Ba Minister please intensify the sensitisations so that people can be clear,” he said.

At Bwalya Mponda Primary School, Ms Kabanshi addressed dozens who pupils who kept murmuring as she spelt out the importance of male circumcision.

She earlier flew to Kasoma Lunga island where she launched Sexual And Reproductive Health for All Initiative (SARAI) which is aimed at encouraging the use of family planning methods by both teenage and adult mothers.

SARAI is a multi-donor funded project which is reaching to the heart of rural Zambia to help fight bad health traditions and introduce health practices that will save lives.

In Lunga, girls get married as early as 12 years and the use of family planning is not common.

Using what they call Focus Groups, a SARAI team sensitised mothers on the usage of family planning to save the mother’s life and also space children.

“Our aim is to see to it that mothers have time to rest after delivering, we want them to also space their children and reduce deaths,” said Dr Cheswa Vwalika, SARAI Chief of Party.

In one of the focus groups, a teenage mother explained how she was married at the age of 13 and she immediately used family planning as she was still young but that ended up bringing problems in her new marriage.

“After much talk, I told my grandmother about it and she told me to stop taking family planning. That’s how I started giving birth. I had five children in seven years before I was divorced,” she said.
A SARAI-branded vehicle

In the focus groups, some teenage mothers revealed that they fear to take family planning because they heard that monthly periods become severe and some husbands could divorce them for not bearing children.

SARAI is a five year project which is being implemented in Luapula, Northern and Muchinga provinces.

Another intervention being used to help change people’s mindsets is the use of Safe Motherhood Action Groups (SMAG) which has received overwhelming support from the islands.

40 SMAG members were last month completing their training in Kasoma Lunga and Nsamba islands on how to encourage women deliver from health centers as opposed to home deliveries which mostly result in complications and deaths.

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