Faith and Health Leaders in Kenya's Kilifi County Partner on Birth Spacing and COVID
Two years of relationship building between Kenya’s Kilifi County and local interfaith and community leaders has led to increased awareness on birth spacing in the county, using faith-specific messages. USAID’s Health Policy Plus (HP+) project provided financial and technical support for local leaders and representatives from Kilifi’s departments of health and gender to meet and create harmonized social and behavior change messages. The messages were developed in accordance with the county’s most recent Costed Implementation Plan (CIP) for Family Planning—a roadmap for achieving family planning goals and prioritizes the involvement of faith and community leaders to address concerns about family planning use. Kilifi County, which sits just north of Mombasa on Kenya’s coast and struggles with high rates of teen pregnancy (22% locally versus 18% nationally according to the CIP), is also home to a large faith community, making community and religious leaders trusted messengers of health information. Now established, this network of faith leaders is raising awareness on birth spacing and helping to disseminate information on the prevention of COVID-19.
At a workshop in late 2019, 25 interfaith, community, and government participants used HP+’s joint accountability approach to map their relationships to help improve stronger coordination among interfaith leaders, civil society organizations, and the county government. Participants developed an action plan to hold each party accountable for improving coordination. A small working group, comprised of county faith leaders and gender experts, identified 60 leaders from Kilifi’s seven sub-counties, agreeing to collaborate with them on birth spacing messages, the more appropriate term for family planning in Kilifi.
In 2020, when the family planning initiative was delayed due to COVID-19 the county health department tapped into the newly established interfaith network, inviting them to transmit COVID-19 prevention messages through their congregation networks. This helped further strengthen the partnerships between the county health department and faith leaders, who often shared information on COVID-19 cases, prevention strategies, and treatment measures.
Once travel and gathering restrictions were lifted, faith leaders incorporated the birth spacing messages back into their work. They again reviewed barriers that limit family planning acceptance and use and highlighted approaches to best address them. Then, leaders from each faith began to disseminate harmonized messages to their congregations. Several Christian pastors disseminated the messages during their men’s fellowship sermons. Muslim faith leaders worked with the Kenya Youth Muslim Development Organization to print copies of leaflets with family planning messages for county-wide dissemination. Kilifi’s health department continued to partner with the leaders, including having the Reproductive Health Coordinator, Kennedy Miriti, participate in a live radio show in August 2021 with Ustadh Rashid, a respected Muslim faith leader, to promote coordinated messages on birth spacing.
Since the creation of this partnership, and seeing its success in disseminating messages on preventing COVID-19, Kilifi County has prioritized engaging faith-based networks to champion family planning messaging and address barriers to family planning use. The Kilifi County Consolidated County Annual Work Plan for 2021—2022 includes budgeted activities from the 2019 joint accountability action plan, such as training interfaith leaders on harmonized family planning messages and holding dialogues with faith and community champions on family planning. The county has also committed to mobilizing funds from other implementing partners, such as the Kenya Youth Muslim Development Organization and the USAID-funded Africa Christian Health Association Platform Afya project, to fill any deficits that may emerge.
During 2021 World Contraception Day celebrations, the Kilifi County team expressed appreciation to HP+ for introducing the joint accountability approach and involving faith and community leaders in implementing family planning interventions. The county team and faith leaders acknowledged the benefit of holding each other accountable to achieve family planning objectives. Rashid emphasized how stronger partnerships and coordination between county governments and interfaith networks could help curb cultural and religious barriers to family planning and improve birth spacing.