Reflections on a Career Devoted to Family Planning: An Interview with TCI’s Deputy Chief of Party for East Africa

Sep 25, 2023

Written by Njeri Mbugua

Reflections on a Career Devoted to Family Planning: An Interview with TCI’s Deputy Chief of Party for East Africa

Sep 25, 2023

Written by Njeri Mbugua

Dr. Njeri during one of her hiking challenges to summit Mt. Kenya, seen in the background.

Dr. Njeri Nyamu adeptly holds a dual leadership position, serving as the Project Lead for the Accelerating Post-Pregnancy Family Planning Integration into Primary Healthcare (APIP) initiative in Kenya, alongside her role as the Deputy Project Director for The Challenge Initiative (TCI) in East Africa. Her multifaceted responsibilities encompass steering these critical projects towards success.

Dr. Njeri’s professional endeavours are centred on the amplification of high-impact practices in family planning and adolescent youth sexual reproductive health. Her efforts are directed at the substantial expansion of these practices, ensuring their sustainable implementation, and ultimately fostering more inclusive and equitable access to vital healthcare services.

A fervent advocate for reproductive health and rights, Dr. Njeri stands as a resolute gender champion. Her commitment to advocating for these essential aspects of healthcare underscores her dedication to creating a more equitable and empowered society.

Outside of her dynamic professional roles, Dr. Njeri embraces the joys of motherhood, caring for her two children aged 10 and 7 years. Additionally, she is an ardent hiker, engaging with the natural world as a source of rejuvenation and inspiration. We sat down with Dr. Njeri for an interview about her career in the family planning and reproductive health care field on the eve of World Contraception Day, the theme of which this year is “the Power of Options.”

What brought you to Jhpiego and what motivates you to serve in family planning?

I was drawn to Jhpiego by its impactful work and approaches to improving healthcare systems and promoting reproductive, maternal and child health around the world. The opportunity to contribute to such meaningful work aligned perfectly with my dedication to family planning. My motivation for my work is driven by the profound impact that family planning has on women’s lives, maternal and child health, and overall community well-being. As a user of modern contraceptives, myself, I can attest to the empowerment they offer in enabling one to take control of their lives in determine when and how many children one wants to have.

Tell us a little about your story. What about your personal journey makes you especially interested in family planning?

Over the years, I have met with many cases of adolescents and older women alike, for whom the pregnancy they carried was either mistimed and/or unwanted. Majority of them lacked adequate information on available contraceptive options and were full of myths and misconceptions about the same. The missing link to enable them access family planning services is the unsophisticated solution of providing appropriate and adequate information and education and linking them to health facilities. But what happens when they reach the said facilities? They would encounter family planning providers who maybe biased to offering them the service or lack capacity to provide it. Not to mention the perpetual contraceptive stock outs we experience in our public facilities.
A personal story, when I was pregnant with my second and last child, I made a request to my obstetrician for a bilateral tubal ligation at delivery as I was scheduled for an elective caesarian section. Her first instinct was to decline my request because she felt I should leave my options open for more children. To add salt to injury, she declared that I needed my partners consent for her to perform the procedure. This was a fully trained obstetrician, professor, practicing in her private clinic in Nairobi! My decision didn’t matter. Neither did my knowledge on family planning nor my training background as a medical doctor. This experience gave me pause and ignited a passion within me to make a difference in this field. Because, family planning is not just a medical service but a pathway to women’s autonomy, healthier families, and stronger communities.

What are your priorities for ensuring your experiences improve access to quality family planning position and why?

My top priorities include comprehensive education about contraceptive options, fostering community engagement, enhancing healthcare providers’ capacity, and leveraging technology for wider outreach. These priorities stem from the belief that everyone deserves accurate information to make informed choices. Engaging communities and healthcare providers ensures culturally sensitive and holistic care. Embracing technology helps bridge gaps and brings services to underserved areas.
But to do all these sustainably. Which means working with the existing government structures to strengthen family planning programs leadership and governance, priorities financing for FP including adequate human resources, ensuring contraceptive commodity security and centering the use of performance data to inform decisions and drive change.

What are some learnings from your past personal or professional experiences that you will like to share during this year’s World Contraceptive Day?

One of the key lessons I’ve learned is the importance of empathy and non-judgmental communication especially when it comes to reproductive health, whether its family planning or maternal health. Each person’s reproductive journey is unique, influenced by cultural, social, and personal factors. Creating a safe space for open conversations allows individuals to feel heard and understood, facilitating better decision-making about their reproductive health and enables them to make the best choice for their needs.
Also, we can not do this great work alone. The efforts require the diversity of stakeholders at all levels from community to national and regional, working cohesively, collaborating and focused on the same agenda to deliver impact. And lastly, effective leadership at every level is essential to driving the change we want. As John C. Maxwell said ‘A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.’

Tell us a bit about risks working in reproductive health?

Working in reproductive health involves addressing deeply rooted cultural taboos, gender norms, misinformation, myths, misconceptions and social stigmas. Navigating these challenges requires sensitivity, patience, and a deep understanding of local contexts. Additionally, advocating for reproductive rights can sometimes face resistance, requiring careful diplomacy and perseverance.

What’s your long-term goal and vision?

My long-term goal is to contribute to building sustainable healthcare systems that prioritize girls and women’s reproductive health globally. I envision a world where family planning services are accessible to all, regardless of their socio-cultural and economic background or geographical location. Empowering women to make informed choices about their reproductive health will not only improve maternal and child health outcomes, but also foster gender equality and community well-being.

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