Sunday, October 1, 2023
ArtWomen left wanting: Ethiopia's contraceptive conundrum

Women left wanting: Ethiopia’s contraceptive conundrum

Access to affordable birth control is becoming an uphill climb for Ethiopian women as contraceptive prices rise, with concerns growing about women’s access to affordable reproductive healthcare options. While various health resources have emerged offering hope for a healthier future, concerns still remain. Contraceptive policies, though controversial, can empower women’s health decisions and safeguard their reproductive health.

However, according to a mini-survey by The Reporter across Addis Ababa, contraceptive availability is diminishing. Condoms provide a simple example.

Melkamu Ayalew, a pharmacist at Ruth Pharmacy around Bolearea, says Hiwot Trust condom is no longer available while other brands distributed by DKT Ethiopia are also in short supply.

“Five months ago, a DKT condom cost five birr but now costs 30 birr,” Melkamu said. “Sensation condoms are not in stock. Many customers request them without success.”

He says this will increase the prevalence of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. “The condom suppliers say they lack foreign currency but I do not think so,” he says.

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Sources at DKT Ethiopia told The Reporter that donors continue funding condom importers but they remain inactive.

Despite increasing numbers of Ethiopian women entrepreneurs, access to contraceptive services remains limited. Advocates say efforts are needed to ensure affordable reproductive healthcare options as costs continue to hike.

A family planning and consultation expert, Tihut Birhanu (Nurse) says there is a lack of research and development into making contraceptives more effective and safer with fewer side effects.

“Priority must be given to R&D to provide women better birth control options,” Tihut told The Reporter.

Both government health centers and private hospitals play key but different roles in contraceptive access, Tihut notes. While the private health centers tend to offer more advanced methods but at higher costs, government facilities provide affordable or free contraceptives easing financial pressures for many women.

Comprehensive contraceptive information is critical so women understand differences in hormonal vs non-hormonal options and possible side effects, according to Tihut. She says institutions should maintain all options and fully inform patients before prescribing or dispensing contraceptives.

According to pharmacists The Reporter spoke with in Addis Ababa, there has been rising demand for long-term birth control packages. This could be attributed to growing awareness of sexual health and reproductive choices, prompting people to opt for reliable and sustainable contraceptive methods. This shift towards a more informed and proactive approach to reproductive health care is a positive development.

Universities also play a crucial role. However, within universities, students revealed that many people often choose to have unprotected sex. Surprisingly, this issue is not necessarily linked to the price of contraception since universities provide free condoms in communal areas, suggesting structural barriers beyond cost limiting students’ contraceptive access and use.

Unfortunately, many Ethiopian women do not use long-term birth control, mainly due to the stigma around seeking reproductive healthcare, experts say. And the lack of knowledge about contraceptive options compounds the issue.

In a bid to address the challenges faced by women, YeneHealth, a company that works on femtech, aims to empower women through education and open discussion. Its mission is to promote safe sex and enable women to make informed health decisions, according to Betelhem Derib, head of sales and business development. By creating safe spaces, YeneHealth seeks to empower women to take charge of their health without shame.

YeneHealth’s services, like a 24/7 e-pharmacy, online medical advice and an informative portal, provide crucial resources to support women’s reproductive wellbeing. Collaborations with organizations like Marie Stopes Ethiopia and Saint Paulos Hospital augment YeneHealth’s efforts to deliver comprehensive healthcare.

As Ethiopia works toward accessible and affordable contraception, experts say stakeholders must coordinate efforts since they play a vital role in empowering women and fostering a healthier nation. By combining knowledge, resources, and initiatives, diversified and simplified contraceptive and planning packages tailored to needs can enhance human capital development. However, challenges around stigma, information and availability will require sustained efforts to fully address.

Addressing these issues holistically through education, empowerment and equitable access to options could reduce incidence of unintended pregnancy and its consequences.

Contributed by Lisa Hailu & Daniel Nigussie

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