The Total Market for Family Planning Comes Together in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Dr. Babeth Katumbo

PATH | National Family Planning Officer
A woman from the DRC.

The DRC needs a family planning program that works for all women. Photo: PATH/Georgina Goodwin

In November 2016, PATH partnered with the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ministry of Health to hold a three-day workshop in Kinshasa that brought together the public, commercial, and private nonprofit sectors to advance a total market approach to family planning. A total market approach is a process that combines the strengths of all marketplace sectors to ensure that women get the supplies and services they need, through the right channels, and at the right price. In the DRC, aligning marketplace sectors can help to solve the inequities in our current system—where many poor women can’t access or afford family planning services. This lack of access contributes in part to the DRC’s high rates of maternal mortality and unmet need for contraception.

The DRC needs a family planning program that works for all women. As a hospital medical provider for many years, I have seen firsthand the struggles women face to obtain family planning services. That’s why I am excited that the DRC is one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to undertake a total market approach for all family planning products. Many stakeholders have recognized that our current public-sector family planning system alone cannot meet the needs of everyone, and the private sector—which is becoming a more popular source for family planning—has often been left out of discussions completely. Our November workshop was an opportunity to bring more partners together to shape a healthier, more sustainable family planning market.

Bringing all sectors to the table

The November workshop was a novel effort to coordinate the various sectors to identify what each could bring to the table. In fact, to our knowledge, it was the first time the private sector has had an opportunity to participate in a family planning workshop of this type. More than 20 organizations from the public, private, and commercial sectors attended, including the Congolese government’s family planning division of the ministry of health, social marketing agencies, representatives from non-governmental organizations providing family planning products, and staff from private pharmacies.

Because a total market approach aims to combine the strengths of all marketplace sectors to ensure users have access to the supplies and services they need at the facility of their choice, improved coordination was a key goal for the workshop. We used a modified version of PATH’s ten-part advocacy training plan to engage the group, identify stakeholders, collate existing evidence, identify objectives, and lay out potential measures for success. The format of the workshop—where each step in the total market approach process was broken down into a specific exercise and accompanying workshop—provided a useful framework for discussion and allowed the participants to come together to identify all the elements necessary to implement a total market approach in the DRC.

Moving toward a national plan

The workshop yielded several important outcomes. We identified a keen interest among stakeholders to move forward in developing a national total market approach plan, including valuable insights and vision from the private sector participants. This sparked a new enthusiasm for cross-sector collaboration, sharing of data, and reaching out to Kinshasa’s large, informal network of family planning providers. Secondly, we articulated advocacy goals that will be critical to ensuring a strong total market approach going forward, including encouraging staff within the Ministry of Health to provide leadership for the overall market, and the resources to support its development. Finally, we identified a need to advocate to the country’s informal drug shops on the value of collaborating with existing contraceptive working groups.

Perhaps most importantly, the workshop gave us a unique opportunity to join together and work toward the common goal of ensuring that all women have equitable access to family planning products and services across the DRC. We are now working on a national total market approach plan that addresses the needs of all sectors. PATH is modifying the workshop template we used at the workshop so that it can be more widely used across the country to engage stakeholders. Going forward, I would like to see this approach spread throughout the country through each health district to truly increase equity in access to contraceptive methods across all channels.