Despite the commitment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to expand the family planning method mix and increase access to services, awareness of emergency contraception is low among women, and the method remains underused and poorly integrated in family planning programming.
Data from 15 focus group discussions conducted in 2016 among women aged 15–35 were used to examine awareness and perceptions of, and attitudes toward, emergency contraceptives. After facilitators explained emergency contraceptive pills' mechanism of action and other characteristics, participants were asked about the potential benefits and risks of making the method more widely available. Transcripts were analyzed using an iterative approach.
Women reported employing a wide range of postcoital contraceptive behaviors, albeit often using inappropriate products, and generally agreed that emergency contraceptive pills seemed to be a potentially effective solution to their family planning needs. Perceived benefits and limitations of the method were almost always framed in reference to other, better-known contraceptives, and women expressed strong preferences for pharmacy-based provision that aligned with their usual behaviors for obtaining contraceptives. Participants were reluctant to see the method available for free.
Emergency contraceptive pills have the potential to address gaps in the family planning method mix in the DRC. Assessing whether women have incomplete or erroneous information about family planning methods can provide better understanding of women's contraceptive choices in low-income countries.
Julie H. Hernandez is research assistant professor, Department of Global Health Management and Policy, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, LA, USA. Mbadu Muanda is director of the National Program for Adolescent Health and the National Program for Reproductive Health, Ministry of Health, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa. Mélissa Garcia is a technical advisor, International Consortium for Emergency Contraception, Management Sciences for Health, New York. Grace Matawa is communication officer, Tulane International, Kinshasa.