My Bead, My Choice: Family Planning in Kenya’s Remote Areas

Speeches Shim

Friday, July 9, 2021
Linda Minayo, a nurse at St Elizabeth Health Center in Turkana County, demonstrates to a client the use of cycle beads.
Edna Mosiara/AMREF

Akiru Nawoton, 32, lives in Kenya’s arid north-western county of Turkana. She has seven children with her husband, who also has 14 more children with his other two wives. Akiru explains her concerns about contraception:“We do not use contraception because it has chemicals that are harmful to the body.” 

In Turkana, having many children is a sign of prestige as they can help herd the livestock that will improve their families’ prosperity and well-being. But having many children in rapid succession can also lead to pregnancy-related complications and poor health in women and children. Since people in hard-to-reach areas have the perception that modern contraceptives such as the birth control pill are impractical, the Turkana County Department of Health and USAID’s Afya Timiza program joined forces to introduce a simpler tool for spacing childbearing: cycle beads.

Strung together into a necklace, the 32 beads use three different colors to help women keep track of their menstrual cycle and take action to avoid pregnancies during their most fertile period, if they wish to do so.

“The cycle beads are more culturally acceptable to both men and women because they are easy to use, more so for those who cannot read and write,” explains Linda Minayo, a nurse at Lorugum Sub-County Hospital. “Most couples are more receptive to discussions on child spacing once they understand how to use them. In the past year, individuals seeking child spacing services have increased from zero to 15 in a month,” she adds. Mary Echapman, a mother of four, decided to use the beads for family planning because they are easy to count and “do not have any side effects.” “I encourage other women to consider adopting the beads,” she says.

In partnership with the counties of Samburu and Turkana, USAID’s Afya Timiza worked to increase access to equitable and affordable maternal, reproductive, family planning, and child health services, including in hard-to-reach areas. Over four years, it empowered over 146,000 women of reproductive age to access contraception and child spacing beads in both counties.

Last updated: September 21, 2021

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