Kitui, Kenya—The men of the Kitui Riders Association do two things exceptionally well: ride motorcycles and educate neighbors, coworkers and others in this urban town on the importance of family planning.
These motorcycle enthusiasts are changing people’s minds and actions in a community that rarely discussed family planning issues and needs—or the health benefits of family planning. Not only do they speak about the proper use of condoms, they touch on a myriad of issues, from sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS to malaria and drug abuse.
The members of the Kitui Riders Association are among the enthusiastic family planning advocates and peer counselors participating in efforts by the Jhpiego-led APHIAplus KAMILI program, in collaboration with Kenya’s Ministry of Health (MOH), to educate husbands, fathers and other male relatives on reproductive health issues and the importance of birth spacing to the health of a mother and her family.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, APHIAplus KAMILI uses lay counselors and family planning champions to engage men in all aspects of healthy behaviors, including being faithful to one partner, using condoms to protect against HIV transmission and saying “no” to drugs. APHIAplus KAMILI is a five-year, $100 million integrated health service delivery project in Kenya’s Eastern and Central Provinces (APHIA stands for AIDS, Population and Health Integrated Assistance). Seven partners are working on this comprehensive, MOH-supported effort to improve the health of Kenyans and save lives.
Since the Riders began working with APHIAplus KAMILI in 2012, the distribution of condoms for men has skyrocketed, from 7,400 per month, to more than 37,000 per month.
Club leaders Steven Mumbu and Josephat Mutinda first approached APHIAplus KAMILI for family planning information they could share with members and spouses. Dorcas Khasowa, a Behavior Change Communications Officer with KAMILI, and Rhoda Njeru, Reproductive Health Program Officer, saw the benefits of engaging this group of men in family planning work.
“I was excited to work with men as we are a patriarchal community and what they say is what goes,” says Khasowa, who knows from her years of experience that husbands and male relatives often control decision-making in many families. “I knew I would reduce negative perceptions on reproductive health needs as well as increase the uptake in family planning [for both genders].”
Khasowa and Njeru quickly organized an education session for the bikers association. Although it was the first meeting of its kind for the program officers, they believed it had the potential to be scaled up in other areas. The two invited Benedetta Mbaka, a nurse at Kitui District Hospital, to lead the group discussion.
In the beginning, many Riders were shy and found it difficult to talk about reproductive health issues, even within their own group, recalls Khasowa. They lacked strong communication skills and didn’t have the thorough knowledge of reproductive health to answer questions from neighbors and family members.
But Dorcas was confident that hosting several education sessions with the Riders would increase their understanding of—and their comfort level in discussing—key family planning messages. Men were encouraged to bring their wives and partners to the sessions, where Khasowa, Njeru and Mbaka explained the different forms of contraceptives and eligibility criteria for each and invited all to participate in the discussion.
Together, the three helped educate participants about proper condom use, signs of breast and cervical cancer, breastfeeding, and HIV testing and counseling. Each couple was then offered reproductive health services—including HIV testing and counseling, family planning and cervical cancer screening.
“More than seven of the couples immediately sought counseling [on these issues],” says Khasowa. “Almost all of the couples [today] are ambassadors for family planning referrals at the hospital.”
Priscah Peters, wife of one of the Riders, was pleased to be part of the discussions. “I not only added to my information on family planning, but I am now confident that our partners will work with us,” she said. “They will not stop us from using contraception due to fears created by baseless myths.”
Peters, like many of the wives who attended these education sessions, pledged to help spread the message as well. “Peer education has transformed the outlook and uptake of family planning commodities among the overall community members,” adds Khasowa, of APHIAplus KAMILI.
“At the end of the day,” said Mumbu, of the Kitui Riders Association, “we want to be riders that change the society in all ways. That is our main objective.”