Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.
I have dedicated my working life to advocating for the rights of Kenya’s young women to make their own reproductive choices. I have trained youth leaders, government officials, and 100 community-based organizations to advocate for access to family planning. I was Kenya manager for the 2014 survey on Family Planning Effort Index and the National Composite Index for Family Planning, served on the Ministry of Health’s FP technical working group, coordinated youth feedback on the national Adolescent Reproductive Health Policy, and worked to domesticate guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education. I have linked family planning advocates with allies across the RMNCAH continuum, and promoted a recent study showing trends in adolescent health.
What sparked your passion for family planning?
Far too many young people, without access to comprehensive, evidence-based information about sexuality and contraception, rely on myths and misconceptions they hear from their friends. I know that family planning can enable these young women to seek new opportunities and live different lives. I am passionate because I know that I can be a champion for young people’s health and rights, and that I can impart a real difference on these lives that are too often marginalized and forgotten.
She is an ardent reproductive sexual health advocate and has championed meaningful engagement of young people in decisions that affect them.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?
There are too few health workers to meet the needs of Kenya’s women and young people. This contributes to low uptake of family planning and high levels of early and unplanned pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and maternal and newborn death. I work to ensure that the government fulfills its commitments; that it invests in attracting, retaining and training health workers; that policies are evidence-based; and that advocates and communities are equipped to demand action and fight for accountability.
Melissa is a passionate, committed FP advocate who has over the years focused on ensuring that government policies support access to FP services for people who need them including adolescents. She is a member of Kenya’s MNCH legislation Task Force.
What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?
According to DHS, the adolescent pregnancy rate is 18%, and adolescent contraceptive use declined from 2009 to 2014. Cultural, religious, and gender barriers limit access to family planning information and services. I work to inform and mobilize young people as advocates, expand comprehensive sexuality education, and foster youth-friendly services. I work with the media to report more often and more accurately about family planning issues and spark dialogue in Kenyan families and communities.
Melissa is a strong advocate for adolescent sexual reproductive health. She has been actively involved in building the capacity of CSOs and in coordinating advocacy efforts around RMNCAH while working closely with government and non-state actors.
What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?
I think Kenya can make great strides in the next 5 years. As a professional and as a Kenyan, I will work to mobilize more investment in youth-friendly services; to identify and train youth champions to inform young people of their contraceptive choices; to increase utilization through various mobilization and advocacy approaches; to strengthen adult-youth communication by engaging parents as sexuality educators; and to empower young people to make smart, informed decisions!
Read more about Melissa’s work here.