It’s 19 children and counting… for Baringo man
Kukat Kamartum walks confidently as he approaches his vast homestead at Riong’o Village, Tiaty sub-county in Baringo.
The homestead is located about 300 kilometres west of Kabarnet Town.
Kamartum points to his wealth––over 100 sheep and goats. But his most priced possession is his 19 children, who he considers his pride and joy.
“It is God’s plan and commandment that we fill the earth. It is still God who knows what they will eat,” Kamartum said as he adjusts his shuka over the shoulder.
According to the 33-year-old man, child spacing is a foreign concept. He believes in the mantra ‘the more children you have, the wealthier and safe you are’.
“I want as many children as I can get. For those who would want to pursue education, we will ask God to guide us,” he said, noting that the rest can look after livestock and provide security during armed raids. He said girls will be married off to acquire wealth.
The search for pasture and water brings renewed conflict with their neighbouring communities.
As the world marks World Contraceptive Day tomorrow, his eldest wife, Chepkerer, says having many children is their way of life.
The community has little information about basic contraceptives, such as condoms, leave alone the modern ones like implants.
“We do not know about family planning. We have never heard about it. And because our men are about to move far away from home for a while, we have no option but to conceive,” she said.
Kamartum and his peers are about to go hundreds of kilometres with their animals’ -as the drought situation in Baringo and neighbouring counties sets in, in serach of water and pasture. It takes more than six months for them to come back home.
This explains why child spacing for this community is an uphill task. Like locusts in hibernation, most of the time when the men are at home, their main activity is to impregnate their wives.
“Another child comes the moment my wife heals after delivering,” he said emphasising that family planning is a foreign concept that does not support their culture and “has no meaning at all.”
She also said having many children comes with lots of merits, so that some can go to school, while others look after the animals.
Data from the County Health Department shows that one family in Baringo villages can have an average of six to 10 children.
The disdain residents have for contraceptive is clear when you visit the local clinics where the commodities are gathering dust on the shelves.
“We have all the required commodities here. From condoms to emergency contraceptives to long-term modern family planning products, but as you can see, some of them have expired because of poor uptake,” Josphat Yatich, a volunteer nurse at Riong’o Health Centre said.
He displayed some of the the commodities that range from the three months injection and three to five years implants such as the Intrauterine devices they have stocked for more than three years.
“We have challenges talking to the community about family planning because elders must give a green light, which they are not ready for,” he added.
At the Akwichatis, Koko and Top Lane health centres, facilities located almost 200 kilometres away the story is the same.
Grace Lekoroch, said, for instance, in Silale Ward, where she is married, there are myriad of challenges because mothers know little about child spacing due to lack of awareness.
“We are appealing to the government to raise awareness among mothers through health centres,” the mother of four, who is also expecting a fifth child, said.
Paul Lotudo, a village elder, said it is important for the pastoralist community change with time.
“We feel ashamed to see so much investments going to waste. We have an abundance of contraceptives in our dispensaries, but the uptake is poor.
This is wastage, and we need a lot of education to help the situation.
The government must look for a way of talking to people on the importance of family planning even if it is a taboo topic here,” he said.
At the Maron Dispensary, Thomas Sirikwa, the chief nurse, said he is currently building a pool of local Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) taking education about family planning to the doorsteps of homesteads, despite the threat from elders.
“We have seen uptake of contraceptives now improving,” he said.
Baringo Health Chief Officer in-charge of medical services, Dr Gideon Toromo said the county is in the process of identifying community male champions who will raise awareness among people.
“All health facilities are equipped with the required commodities, however, the attitude issue among community members has had an impact on uptake.
Politicians are also to blame because they have advised against family planning as they want numbers for election purposes,” he said, emphasising that the county now has a number of strategies to improve uptake of family planning services, including seminars and innovative ways of encouraging girls to go to school.
“Education is one of the most effective strategy to discourage early pregnancies, and we are doing this through community mobilisation.
We also use this strategy to explain to people why we need to achieve the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020 )goals,” he said.
Unfortunately, specific budgeting for FP commodities in the county has not corresponded with the monumental challenge of unplanned families.
According to Toromo, in the last Financial Year, the county set aside Sh1 million for FP commodities procurement and other services, the highest so far.
Kenya’s FP 2020 goal states that every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including Reproductive Health care.
“We have long known that there is a direct correlation between family planning and better health and birth outcomes.
Families that plan tend to have fewer health complications—children are more often born at normal weights, mothers recover more quickly from childbirth,” he said.
Daisy Yego, 22-year-old from Kampi Turkana Unit in Marigat Town is among numerous girls who dropped out of school due to early pregnancy.
“I was 16 years when I dropped out of school. I was chased away from home. I didn’t know about family planning.
I’m now wiser,” she said. She is one of the women on long-term methods of family planning.