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In Family Planning Counseling, There are Two Experts in the Room

After completing EngenderHealth’s training in 2009, Nurse Yetatwork Alemayehu quickly became an accomplished family planning provider for Ethiopian women and men. But with all the expertise she has collected to date as a health professional, the 54-year-old nurse acknowledges that being a successful provider isn’t just about knowledge, but the ability to be a good listener.

“Whenever I counsel my clients, I always accept the fact that there are two experts in the room,” said Yetatwork, who trained through the EngenderHealth/ABRI project at Bole Health Center in Addis Ababa. “I listen to the clients to understand what they need, what they know, and what information they lack. This builds trust between my clients and me.”

Understanding the needs and perspectives of each client is key to helping him or her make an informed decision about family planning. Few Ethiopian women, for example, choose the intrauterine device (IUD) as their family planning method of choice. Misinformation about IUDs and their safety for women’s health is pervasive and many Ethiopian women often avoid undergoing gynecological procedures unless absolutely necessary.

But the IUD is a safe, effective, and affordable method of preventing pregnancy. Yetatwork works hard to debunk the myths about IUDs.

“I always try to clear misconceptions by providing accurate information about the device—that it is nonhormonal, safe, and effective,” she said. “I discuss the side effects and describe the insertion procedure as well. Once the clients have accurate information about the IUD, they really want to use it.”

Indeed, after being counseled by Yetatwork on the full range of options, many of her clients often choose the IUD, which is available in all government health facilities in Addis Ababa, thanks to concerted efforts by the Regional Health Bureau and EngenderHealth. In collaboration with the Bureau, the EngenderHealth/ABRI project trains clinic staff on comprehensive family planning, with an emphasis on long-acting methods like the IUD.

Yetatwork is very clear about the secret behind her success. “I provide comprehensive counseling for every client who visits the clinic,” she said. “I also use educational materials in order to create awareness and ensure that each client has all the information she needs to make an informed decision.”

Yetatwork also recognizes that the provider is a key factor in the client’s decision to adopt a family planning method. “The provider’s attitude toward family planning, the way he or she treats clients, and the words used during the counseling really affect women’s receptiveness toward family planning,” she said.

The consistent quality of Yetatwork’s services and her long experience at the family planning unit has paid off: Every week, she serves about 250 family planning clients who, in turn, recommend her services to others. The Bole Health Center today also serves as a family planning training center.

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