, NAIROBI, July 21 – ‘Margaret’ is a manager in one of the hotels in Nakuru. She is 33 years old,married and dedicated to her husband of five years.
I was introduced to Margaret by a common friend. At first, she is reluctant to open up, but I slowly gain her trust and she shares an intimate story with me.
"I look back at my teenage, and all I have are regrets," she begins. "I had a boyfriend in college and any time we had unsafe sex, I used the Morning After Pill (MAP). Actually it was like my family planning method".
"Sometimes he would even buy it for me and keep it in the house. After about three years, my periods were irregular; they would skip some months and when they came they could go on for many days," she narrates.
Margaret hopped from hospital to hospital and the main advice she received was that she needed to stop using the pill.
She tells me that she never wanted to visit health centers seeking family planning because "people mostly look at young people as sinners when they talk of family planning".
Margaret says she has had two miscarriages and one ectopic pregnancy despite having irregular monthly periods. This, she believes, was caused by the excessive use of MAP according to one doctor’s diagnosis.
"One of them told me that I had hormonal imbalance, which they said could have been caused by excessive use of the morning after pill," she says.
Margret is not alone. I spoke to several other girls in Nairobi and clear indications are that they misuse the pill.
Some said they take the pill two to three times a month. Most of them are also not aware of the dangers they expose themselves to, in fact they think it is the safest method of family planning.
Others think they are too young to use other available family planning methods.
USE OF MAP
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Assistant Country Director Dr. Stephen Wanyee says the pill should be used ONLY in cases of emergency; for example in cases of rape, if a woman who is on regular pills skips a day’s dose, or in the event that a condom bursts during intercourse.
Dr. Wanyee holds the opinion that many young women opt for the pill as a regular form of contraceptive due to lack of youth-friendly health centers.
I visited the Nakuru Provincial Hospital, and spoke to Matron Eunice Kiiru who specifically deals with the Family Planning Department.
She said the unit is mainly frequented by older women.
"No young person would want to be going for similar services as their mothers," she said.
True to her words, the waiting area of the department was occupied by women aged 30 years and above.
WHY MAP IS ABUSED
Division of Reproductive Health Programme Officer at the Ministry of Public Health, Mary Gathitu, said both young and old women were abusing the pill.
Capital News also established that the pill was readily available in most of the chemists in the country, where the most common brands are sold for between Sh100 and Sh200, depending on the locality of the chemist.
Gathitu said currently there is no law in place to control the sale of MAP.
She also expressed her concerns that the business aspect of chemist owners outshines the implications of an abused pill since most pharmacists are mainly driven by profits.
"Women walk in and out of chemists and the emergency pill is everywhere, the chemists are in business!" she said.
Susan Kamau, who runs a chemist in Nairobi’s down town confirms that three quarters of those purchasing the morning after pill are young girls.
"When schools are about to open, demand for the pill is so high, they literally run out of stock," she says.
A parent in Nakuru says: "I am very surprised because with all these diseases like AIDS, I would not have expected them to be using this pill. It seems they are more afraid of pregnancy than diseases."
In some countries like Germany, no one is allowed to buy the morning pill without a doctors’ prescription.
Kenya should consider controlling the sale of the pill to ensure it is used correctly.
Provision of youth-friendly family planning centres would also encourage young people to utilize family planning methods correctly.
The Ministry of Public Health is embarking on empowering public family planning providers to appreciate and extend services to all women,young or old, as long as they are sexually active.
"By going to buy a pill, it already shows that they are sexually active, and they should be advised on the best family planning method to use," says Gathitu
Young women should know that MAP is taken in cases of emergencies, (at most once per month) and it is not a permanent family planning method.