Rose Moyo (20) is married to a man who adamantly refuses to let her use contraceptives as it is against his religious beliefs of wanting her to conceive yearly.
In fear of having many children who she knows she would not afford to cater for, considering the current economic situation in Zimbabwe, Rose decided to take contraceptive pills from a nearby clinic without the knowledge of her husband.
It has been a year since Rose started taking the pills secretly after she gave birth to her third child and is not getting pregnant despite her husband’s efforts to impregnate her.
“My plans were to rely on contraceptive pills until my child reached four years and then have another child thereafter; however, the birth control pill shortages at the clinic has ruined everything,” Moyo said.
The Marvelon tablet – a type of hormonal oral contraceptive, commonly known as a birth control pill or combined oral contraceptives is in short supply. It is a drug taken by mouth with the objective of preventing pregnancy.
Public health institutions in Zimbabwe have reportedly run out of contraceptives, leaving women stranded as they cannot afford the high prices charged by private pharmacies.
Health facilities visited over the past weeks reported very low supplies or mostly no supplies of oral contraceptives, injectables and implant. There was also a shortage of condoms, worsening the situation which raised justified concerns that this may lead to increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council Matabeleland regional officer, Blessed Gumbi said the shortage of contraceptives had become a countrywide crisis that they are struggling to contain and urged the members of the public to approach health institutions to access alternative methods while waiting for the pills, which they are expecting a shipment at the beginning of the September.
A nurse at Overspill Clinic (name withheld) told ZimSentinel that the shortage of contraceptive pills undermined women’s reproductive health rights and increases the risk of unwanted pregnancies and may also force women to resort to unsafe abortions, which directly affects their health.
She also said the shortages would impact teenagers with issues of teenage pregnancies, as there are shortages of morning after pills in the pharmacies too.
A Budiriro resident Sarudzai Manongese concurred saying some private pharmacies were stocking some contraceptives, but the prices were prohibitive, with some pharmacies charging in US dollars, which she said she cannot afford hence is forced to do without.
“Most of us are forced to go without the contraceptives as we cannot afford buying in US Dollars being charged by pharmacies, yet we are unemployed” said Manongese.
A Pharmacist from Word Pharmacy, Ruth Chirembe told ZimSentinel the birth control pills pack that was retailing at dollar each was now going for $, the morning after pill is now US$, the Carex Condoms were going for US$ and the less popular Protector Plus was selling at RTGS$6, which is out of reach for the majority.
She went on to mention that their business had declined compared to the previous months when the prices were affordable.
A sex worker, Sandra Mandita said the absence of contraceptives was unlikely to stop all the pleasure activities, but probably just increase the charge for the services. She feared the consequences of unprotected sex even at a higher fee were too ghastly to contemplate – unwanted pregnancy or illegal abortion.
A vendor in Harare CBD commented that due to the contraceptive shortage and high prices being charged in the pharmacies, she has resorted to using traditional methods of preventing pregnancy; that is withdrawal and making use of her safe days which are less efficient.
The recent contraceptive shortages and price increases may reverse some of the gains achieved in family planning programmes and the HIV and AIDS response as the sharp price hikes create barriers to promote uptake in marginalised groups.
Zimbabwe’s Family Planning strategy was to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate from 59% to 68 % by 2020 and in the process reduce teenage pregnancies from 24% to 12%.
The Ministry of Health said government was working around the clock to plug the gaps in service provision in the health sector, urging the Zimbabweans not to purchase medicines and contraception on the black market.
By RUTENDO BAMU