The Ministry of Health recently announced that with assistance from development partners, it is procuring kits to scale up vasectomy services in the country. Since the announcement, there has been a lot of debate in the media, with some people, especially men, equating vasectomy to castration.
This clearly indicates lack of information about various family planning methods! Vasectomy is a permanent family planning method for men where the sperm ducts are cut and tied to prevent the sperms from being released during sexual intercourse. Castration on the other hand is the removal of one’s sexual organs.
Vasectomy is one of the four family planning methods available to men; the others being periodic abstinence, withdrawal and condom use. Of the methods available to men, vasectomy is the most effective.
However, it is also the least chosen. The Uganda Demographic Survey 2011 reports that although 63 per cent of men have heard about vasectomy, only 80 out of the 1,338 men interviewed during the survey had chosen a vasectomy as their family planning method.
Before vasectomy is massively promoted and implemented, there is need to increase awareness on the procedure and what it entails. Like other family planning services, limited knowledge on vasectomy has led to various myths and misconceptions, with some people mistaking the method for castration!
In a country where men control most key resources and, therefore, make decisions regarding important aspects of life, including family size, the promotion of vasectomy as a family planning method will go a long way in lowering the high fertility rate.
However, the Ministry of Health and its partners need to keep in mind that promoting vasectomy as a viable family planning method requires a well thought-out strategy.
The promotion strategy should take into consideration that vasectomy, like all other family planning methods, should be based on individual choice. The United Nations Population Fund emphasises that access to family planning is a human right and must be voluntary. The decision to use a family planning method should be made after individuals or couples have received accurate and adequate information on methods, the benefits and possible side effects.
In order to address the negative beliefs and myths, messages disseminated should make a clear distinction between castration and vasectomy and emphasise that the latter does not in any way affect a male’s ability to perform their marital obligations.
Cultural beliefs, traditions and sexuality issues regarding bearing children need to be addressed because, being a permanent method of family planning, vasectomy affects a man’s ability to father more children. And since our societies still hold having many children in high regard, the men are, therefore, reluctant to undertake vasectomy.
In addition, there is widespread stigma surrounding vasectomy as it is considered an unmanly procedure. As such, many men who undergo the procedure do so secretly and fear to openly discuss their experience for fear of being ridiculed by their peers.
In addressing vasectomy, we need to be sensitive and position it as a method that is not skewed towards a particular age, education or status. Men should be encouraged that if they have the number of children that they feel they can ably look after, then they can opt for vasectomy. Besides having more vasectomy service points opened in the country, there is need to reorient all critical information providers such as media practitioners and health workers on the right information that can be used to create awareness.
Messaging should go beyond establishing the reasons hindering vasectomy to approaches that will encourage community dialogues and improve uptake of this method. Just like the country did in the fight against HIV in the early 80s, we need to identify and orient male role models who have undergone vasectomy to encourage their fellow men and address myths and ill perceptions regarding vasectomy services.
While promoting vasectomy, however, we should not forget to also promote other family planning methods available to men.
Ms Mwagale is a communications coordinator at Uganda Health Marketing Group.