In Nigeria, Kenya and Senegal, the most common family planning myths consistently include, “people who use contraceptives end up with health problems” and “contraceptives are dangerous to women’s health.”
Dr. Ilene Speizer, research professor, and Ms. Chinelo Okigbo, doctoral student, are both researchers with the department of maternal and child health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. They also are co-authors on a new study that examines associations between belief in negative family planning myths and use of modern contraceptives on both the individual and community levels in urban areas of three African countries.
As part of the Measurement, Learning & Evaluation Project, the researchers collected baseline data from representative samples of women aged 15–49 and men aged 15–59 living in cities where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is currently operating the Urban Reproductive Health Initiative to increase modern contraceptive use.
On average, women in Nigeria and Kenya believed 2.7 and 4.6 out of eight common myths, respectively, and women in Senegal believed 2.6 out of seven. On an individual level, the stronger a woman’s belief in these myths, the less likely she was to use modern forms of contraception.
In Nigeria, however, the researchers found unexpected associations between community-level credence in the myths and increased contraceptive use among women. No community-level association was found in either Kenya or Senegal.
Investigating further, the research team found that women in the Nigerian cities were part of particularly homogenous ethnic and religious populations. These women were more likely to have closely knit social networks within which misconceptions about family planning could be spread, and were more likely to report believing those myths even while using a modern method. Thus, the positive association between community-level belief in family planning myths and modern contraceptive use highlights the fact that, although these women are from a culture with strong belief in the myths, their need for contraception superseded any misconceptions about side effects.
The full study, which appears in Volume 41 of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, is available online.