Chisomo Zileni

Chisomo Zileni - 2016 Nominee
Position: Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Project Manager
Organization: DanChurchAid
He has been a youth SRH champion spearheading interventions targeting young people in Malawi. He co-led the first ever YFHS accreditation process and led one of the biggest campaigns on female condoms. – Nominator
Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

In 2003, I co-founded Kamuzu College of Nursing Health Initiative Society (KAHIS) aimed at educating secondary students on family planning (FP) and HIV. This was my breakthrough in FP reaching over 2,000 students. Later, I joined the Marie Stopes International (MSI) Malawi- Banja La Mtsogolo. Working as an outreach officer, I reached to over 10,000 rural, poor women and girls who accessed (FP) for the first time. I joined the National Youth Council of Malawi (NYCOM), supporting and leading the design of YFHS and FP interventions. I co-led (with Ministry of Health) the first ever YFHS accreditation of health facilities, promoting quality delivery of FP services to young people. I also co-led the first ever biggest youth female condom and STOP early marriage campaigns (supported by UNFPA).

What sparked your passion for family planning?

One day when I was in nursing school, we visited a rural village 30km from the capital, Lilongwe. We were doing home visits. I was assigned to visit a family of 6 children (1 year spaced between them) and the mother had just given birth to twins. They were so thin and miserable. I felt so bad. After our visit, I asked my lecturer, why her case? Her only response was, ‘only if she could have spaced the other children she may have time to take care of the twins’. This was turning point in FP.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?

Two friends of mine had impregnated their girlfriends (both were 18). They did not know what to do and where to get help. The most frustrating thing was that they did not want to keep them and were in school. They both aborted but one was not lucky and died. The talk of FP has been for married couples in the past and not adolescents and young people. I decided I will work more only in youth SRHR and FP programming and help strengthen YFHS in Malawi. This is what I have done and continue to do.

What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?

Access of FP services to young women especially in rural and hard to reach areas remains the biggest challenge. Resources are also inadequate. To reach out to rural young women, there is need to strengthen public-private partnerships who can easily reach out to these rural communities. New technologies such as drone delivery of FP commodities could minimize challenge of delivery due to topography. Resources- prioritization of government resources needs to be advocated for.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

I want to strengthen the YFHS program in Malawi by addressing most importantly negative attitudes providers have towards adolescents. In next 5 years I want to see more young people approaching health providers without fear and able to easily access FP services. I want this to build into reduction of unwanted pregnancy as a result of access to contraception by young people but also reduced early marriages as a result of unwanted pregnancy. This will surely translate to reduced maternal deaths.

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