“Are family planning methods safe?” wondered Mutombo, a community health worker at the Kawama Village health center, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Katanga Province. “Don’t they contain a poison?” he added, directing his question to Isaac Chishesa, a community mobilization specialist with USAID’s Democratic Republic of Congo-Integrated Health Project (DRC-IHP).
Tough question! One Isaac was not expecting, at least not within a discussion among trained community health workers. An experienced community health professional, Isaac responded with a smile and said, “Thank you, my friend, for sharing your concern,” affirming the participants’ right to ask questions. “Family planning methods are safe,” he then reassured the group. “Based on international quality standards, each method is required to go through extensive testing before it is made available to the public.”
The faces of Mutombo and his peers lit up. They sighed, a collective sigh of relief, and burst out laughing to relieve some of the tension. They all recognized that even though they were dedicated to bringing about improvements in health behaviors, they, like most of their fellow community members, harbored misconceptions and rumors about family planning.
Women in the DRC give birth to an average of six children, and in rural areas, the numbers are often higher. Dispelling myths and rumors, correcting misconceptions, and facilitating the adoption of healthy behaviors within communities, are a few of the aims of the DRC-IHP’s Behavior Change Communication (BCC) approach. Based on motivational interviewing, the approach is strongly focused on reflective listening and empathy with participants, to help transform refusal or hesitation into motivation to adopt healthy behaviors.
Isaac was one of 25 Congolese health communication professionals trained recently by DRC-IHP; the training is being piloted as part of a strategy to ensure that local residents are empowered to act on the knowledge they receive and integrate health practices into their daily lives. Those newly trained in the BCC approach will now train other community health workers to utilize it. The trainees are supported by a training curriculum, job aids, and planning and monitoring tools.
“I appreciated this approach very much because of the benefit it brings to the quality of care in health centers,” said Dr. Berthe Banzua, Deputy Director of the Capacity Building Directorate in the DRC’s Ministry of Health, citing improved client-provider interaction and increased use of health services as two of the benefits.
As illustrated in his exchange with Mutombo, Isaac learned the lesson that the community workers tasked with spreading this approach are among the first to need support in clarifying their understanding, before they can be comfortable and accurately disseminate family planning messages.
The DRC-Integrated Health Project is a five-year USAID cooperative agreement implemented by Management Sciences for Health, the International Rescue Committee, and Overseas Strategic Consulting, Ltd, which is strengthening the leadership and governance capacity of people working in the health sector to improve the access, availability, and quality of services within 80 target health zones.