Glob Health Sci Pract 2015 May 13;3(2):242-54. Epub 2015 May 13.
Partners In Health, Boston, MA, USA Brigham and Women's Hospital, Division of Global Health Equity, Boston, MA, USA Harvard Medical School, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.
Background: While Rwanda has achieved impressive gains in contraceptive coverage, unmet need for family planning is high, and barriers to accessing quality reproductive health services remain. Few studies in Rwanda have qualitatively investigated factors that contribute to family planning use, barriers to care, and quality of services from the community perspective.
Methods: We undertook a qualitative study of community perceptions of reproductive health and family planning in Rwanda's southern Kayonza district, which has the country's highest total fertility rate. From October 2011 to December 2012, we conducted interviews with randomly selected male and female community members (n = 96), community health workers (n = 48), and health facility nurses (n = 15), representing all 8 health centers' catchment areas in the overall catchment area of the district's Rwinkwavu Hospital. We then carried out a directed content analysis to identify key themes and triangulate findings across methods and informant groups.
Results: Key themes emerged across interviews surrounding: (1) fertility beliefs: participants recognized the benefits of family planning but often desired larger families for cultural and historical reasons; (2) social pressures and gender roles: young and unmarried women faced significant stigma and husbands exerted decision-making power, but many husbands did not have a good understanding of family planning because they perceived it as a woman's matter; (3) barriers to accessing high-quality services: out-of-pocket costs, stock-outs, limited method choice, and long waiting times but short consultations at facilities were common complaints; (4) side effects: poor management and rumors and fears of side effects affected contraceptive use. These themes recurred throughout many participant narratives and influenced reproductive health decision making, including enrollment and retention in family planning programs.
Conclusions: As Rwanda continues to refine its family planning policies and programs, it will be critical to address community perceptions around fertility and desired family size, health worker shortages, and stock-outs, as well as to engage men and boys, improve training and mentorship of health workers to provide quality services, and clarify and enforce national policies about payment for services at the local level.