Northmead Center located in one of Lusaka’s residential neighborhoods was especially empty on an early Wednesday morning. Only three men sat patiently watching television in the clinic’s spacious waiting room to be called for their voluntary male circumcision appointment, a procedure that is increasingly common amid a nationwide push to decrease Zambia’s 14.3 percent HIV/AIDS prevalence rate.
At Northmead Center, purposely named instead of Northmead Clinic to entice more people to come in for reproductive health services, everything from male circumcision to cervical cancer screening to family planning services take place in the small, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing clinic.
At Northmead, ninety percent of all services are free to its patients or extremely low cost. In addition to Northmead Marie Stopes also sends mobile health units into the densely populated areas of Lusaka.
Northmead, as the staffers quickly call it, is Marie Stopes International’s reproductive health clinic in Lusaka where they provide sexual and reproductive health services to underserved Zambian men and women. “We touch on almost all aspects of reproductive health,” said Nikile Njovu, Director of Programs during an introductory meeting at Marie Stopes headquarters in Lusaka. “We work in seven out of ten provinces in Zambia and look at the underserved and low-income areas.”
As I walked through Northmead and was shown around by Juliet Timbo, External Relations Manager for Marie Stopes Zambia, I couldn’t help but think how impressive the set-up was. After seeing many health clinics during my ten day trip through Zambia’s Lusaka and Southern provinces with the International Reporting Project all of the health facilities began to blend in with the others. If you’ve seen one clinic, you’ve seen them all. The same is true here in the States. If you’ve seen one doctor’s office, you’ve seen them all. The difference is in the details and Northmead was far different than any clinic I had seen in Zambia and throughout Africa for that matter.
Flushed with the iconic Marie Stopes blue, Northmead had an immediate welcoming vibe as soon as we pulled up and passed through the center’s guarded gates. The front of the building, well-manicured with shade trees and flowers, instantly puts visitors at ease. This isn’t your typical health clinic, to be sure. Inside Northmead, natural light and potted plants create a home-like feel to the facility instead of the typical sterile, detached clinics most are used to.
During the visit Juliet Timbo tells me they strategically use round tables instead of square and rectangular ones to put patients more at ease during procedures. All of the patient rooms are swathed in blue from the wall clocks to the disposable bed linens. Even shoes and reproductive health kits are blue symbolizing the Marie Stopes brand even to the smallest detail.
At Northmead, ninety percent of all services are free to its patients or extremely low cost. In addition to Northmead Marie Stopes also sends mobile health units into the densely populated areas of Lusaka. Working in conjunction with district health offices, the mobile units are manned with three trained health providers that take reproductive health services straight to the people. Now there is a push to get more men involved in family planning so they understand why their wife or girlfriend wants to make decisions about her own pregnancy.
In Zambia where there is a national, government-led increase of family planning services and commodities, Dr. Stephen Mupeta, Director of Clinical Services at Northmead, says getting family planning commodities is not a big challenge, but scaled labor to deliver long-term contraceptives, especially to the rural areas, is. Mupeta mentioned that a reorganization of the supply chain management is needed in order for rural women to access full choice of contraceptives.
One of the major challenges for reproductive health outreach is the misconceptions and falsehoods about contraceptives, Njovu tells me. “We hear from people saying implants will travel to their heart,” she said. “This adds to the reluctance to take methods that are available.
Despite these challenges Marie Stopes Zambia is forging ahead to provide reproductive health services to Zambians and refer women to private health facilities when a needed service is beyond their scope of expertise. Last year over 28,000 women received modern contraceptives from Marie Stopes and 11,000 unintended pregnancies were averted because of their nationwide services according to Marie Stopes’ recently released annual impact report.
To learn more about Marie Stopes visit mariestopes.org.
Jennifer James traveled and reported from Zambia as an International Reporting Project fellow.