After a four-year wait, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has procured 81,463 cycle beads to be distributed to 680 private not-for-profit health facilities throughout the country.
Cycle beads are a tool used in the Standard Day natural family planning method, where a woman tracks her fertile days using 32 beads, which represent her menstrual cycle.
Besides the Standard Day method, religious-based health fertilities, such as the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB), the Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau (UPMB) and the Uganda Muslim Medical (UMM) facilities also use the Lactation Amenorrhoea method and the Two Day method.
Dr Ronald Kasyaba, the UCMB assistant executive secretary, says lobbying for the inclusion of cycle beads to the supply chain of reproductive health commodities was made four years ago.
“The cycle beads were procured through Joint Medical Stores, with funding from the World Bank and the Global Financing Facility. However, the First Lady (Ms Janet Museveni) has been instrumental in pushing for the procurement to become reality,” he says.
Why the delay?
Cycle beads, which have no side effects, help women in managing their sexual reproductive health without fear of being detected by, or clashing with their partners. The delay in their procurement, however, is because they are not considered premier contraceptives.
“Cycle beads are not on the first tier list of supported reproductive commodities procured by MoH’s partners. In the last four years, we have been picking beads from our facilities where the uptake was not high and transferring them to our facilities, including government facilities. These beads had been donated by the Institute of Reproductive Health in Georgetown University,” Dr Kasabya says.
Dr Kasyaba adds that in a typical situation, the effectiveness of cycle beads in preventing pregnancy is at 90 – 94 per cent – comparable with spermicides such as diaphragms, male and female condoms.
However, last year, the country run out of cycle beads. UCMB advised its clients to use cycle beads apps on Google, but this is not feasible for rural women who cannot access the Internet.
The Covid-19 lockdown and presidential directives on public transport have had a detrimental effect on maternal health services, with many facilities upcountry running out of contraceptive commodities.
“The assurances we have received is that the distribution of essential commodities will now be tagged on the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to upcountry facilities by National Medical Stores and JMS,” Dr Kasyaba revealed.
Mr Paul Senyonga, the JMS’s manager for customer services, says the delivery will be done in zones.
“The first zone, which is northern Uganda, will start receiving the cycle beads in a week’s time. The entire delivery process to 135 districts – including the border districts – will be completed by the end of June,” he says.
Retraining service providers
Because there has been a dearth of cycle beads, service providers need refresher courses in the use of cycle beads.
“The three natural methods promoted by the Catholic Church are very expensive because they require retraining of service providers every six months. As UCMB, we are looking for funding to begin the retraining process and we hope government can support us,” Dr Kasyaba says.
Cycle beads will expand family planning method options and contribute to closing the unmet need for family planning which currently stands at 28 per cent.