Kenya Gets Plan B

When the Plan B pill was first approved by the FDA and released onto the US market in 1999, there was some concern that women would use it as a regular part of their birth control routine, instead of an emergency option when regular birth control fails.

While here it has, generally, become a widely accepted emergency option, the BBC reported today that in Kenya, the emergency pill—or e-pill, as it’s called there—has caught on as many women’s favorite method of birth control, “some even buying the pills in advance.”

“Josephine Kibaru, head of family health in the ministry of health, is a strong advocate of contraception. But she has some reservations about the intense media campaign promoting the emergency pill.
‘The impression I get is that university girls are using these pills irresponsibly… If they are needing them it means they have had unprotected sex,’ she said. ‘My concern actually is about the HIV/Aids… it is something that will ruin their lives forever.’”

With 1.2 million adults infected with HIV/AIDS in Kenya—the eighth highest country in the world, according to the CIA Factbook—this trend of unprotected sex and retroactive birth control could be worrying if it marks a shift from practicing safer sex because of sexually transmitted infections, to just worrying about pregnancies.

The press in Nairobi seems to be placing the blame on the media campaign that was put together by the American NGO Populations Services International. The campaign, which has been endorsed by the government, is a series of ads in newspapers and magazines and on free bookmarks.

“Just when we thought sanity was slowly drifting back to the youth,” wrote Njoki Karuoya today in Nairobi’s The Standard, “the proponents of this campaign, who to my shock also include the Government if a recent advertisement in the papers is anything to go by, go back to the streets to scream that unprotected sex is safe as long as a girl gets her hands on the e-pill!”

Hopefully, the introduction of the e-pill to Kenya will mean that young women can have more control over becoming pregnant with the assistance of a morning-after option. However, in a country that has been transformed by HIV/AIDS over the past three decades, shouldn’t there be more concern about practicing safer sex, not just preventing pregnancy?

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  • invalid-0

    I have never understood why it’s a problem if women use Plan B as regular rather than emergency birth control. It’s not more dangerous than normal oral contraceptives. It’s less effective, true, but we’re comfortable with other less effective methods. And it seems to me that women who use Plan B that way aren’t time-bound enough to take regular OCs reliably, so it’s actually a choice between Plan B and nothing, anyway.

  • elizabeth-westley

    Thanks for this post, Elisabeth, but your source article is questionable. The Kenyan press has quite a history of writing alarming stories about "problematic" youth sexuality. EC fits nicely with that discourse, and has been the topic of similar articles in the past.

    The latest article was especially irresponsible as it claimed that EC causes cancer and infertility (in fact, EC is very safe). But leaving that aside, is there any truth to the main assertion in the article – that young Kenyan women are putting their lives at risk because of the availability of EC?
    We have limited data, but here is what we know: in Kenya’s latest DHS (2003), 0.9% of women had ever used EC. We assume these figures have increased somewhat since 2003, but for comparison, more recent national surveys from other African countries show similar low rates of use (0.9% in Benin, 2006, 2.6% in Swaziland, 2007, 0.2% in Kenya’s neighbor, Tanzania, in 2005).
    Surveys of EC users conducted in Nairobi show that the majority of women who buy EC are in their 20s or older, university educated, and generally in professional jobs. Why shouldn’t they use EC as much as they want to if it is the right contraceptive method for them?

    The more interesting question is why the massive investment in HIV awareness has not been more fruitful. The funding available for contraceptive services and marketing is minute by comparison – both in Kenya and at the global level. And that is cause for concern.

    Elizabeth Westley, MPH

    Coordinator, International Consortium for Emergency Contraception

  • invalid-0

    The risk of getting HIV and getting pregnant go hand in hand and should be tackled together. Both of them are caused by unprotected sex, are they not?

    I was a student at a Nairobi university more than 6 years ago and i can tell you – the threat of getting pregnant while still in school and its consequences felt more likely and more immediate than the threat of getting HIV. My friends and i were more afraid of getting pregnant than getting HIV because unlike an STD, a pregnancy is not something you can hide from your parents/friends/the public, and you have to stop school to have the baby.

    I think the honors is on HIV programs to up their game and try to tip the scales – get young people to believe that HIV is a bigger threat than pregnancy.