Key Correspondents gear up to report on HIV and family planning

Lucy Maroncha reports on what the 2013 International Conference on Family Planning means to her as a correspondent and a woman living with HIV.

By Lucy Maroncha, Key Correspondent, Kenya

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 12-15 November around 4,000 people will come together to celebrate recent achievements and explore what more needs to be done to achieve full access and choice to modern family planning methods for all.

As a Key Correspondent from Kenya privileged to attend and cover the conference, I have high expectations to learn the various options of family planning services in different countries. One issue I will focus on is the misuse of contraceptives among teenage girls. In Kenya, medical experts note that teenage girls are more scared of getting pregnant than contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

Getting family planning on the international agenda

As well as evaluating the success of family planning services in the past years, the conference will look at new technologies and expanded options for family planning. It is expected to be one of the biggest such conferences ever held in eastern Africa and brings together political leaders, experts, researchers, donors, and family planning and reproductive health advocates. Among them will be the Malawian president Joyce Banda, Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda Gates.

As a correspondent who writes about HIV I am particularly interested to explore the links between the disease and the challenges around sexual and reproductive health services. I will highlight issues such as preventing the transmission of HIV from parents to children, the risk of pregnancies and safe contraceptives for women living with HIV, including what contraceptives can counteract with antiretroviral medication. This is a topic that needs more coverage as many times women report severe side effects from taking the wrong contraceptives.

This is the third conference on family planning held by the Gates Institute since 2009 and it’s an issue that is gaining prominence in the international development agenda. But more needs to be done to educate and raise awareness of people’s needs in terms of planning their families and managing their health, also to advocate for clear strategic goals in the post-2015 development framework.

HIV and family planning

Family planning is particularly important for people living with HIV, because they need to know how to look after themselves and protect their children. I have spoken with women who have never known about the need to seek treatment to prevent passing HIV to their children. As a correspondent who speaks on behalf of those who have no platform to speak out, I will ensure that readers in my community get the information shared in the conference.

Ahead of reporting on the conference, the Alliance is running a four-day communications workshop for six Key Correspondents, with participants coming from Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It will be an opportunity for us to further develop our news writing skills, as well as exploring blogging, social media and photography.

As a journalist, especially living with HIV, the workshop will be instrumental to me because I will identify with most of the issues discussed in relation to advocacy and reporting. Also, being a woman I will immensely benefit from the conference because I will practice all the issues taught and take the opportunity to educate other women through the media. With the theme ‘Full Access, Full Choice’ I hope to learn more about making independent choices on family planning and advise other women on where and how to access services.