While some might find the title amusing, Dr. Charles Ochieng is proud to be Kenya’s leading vasectomy provider. As the founder and director of Wispivas, an organization that provides information for men who are considering having a vasectomy, he doesn’t just think of the procedure as a way to take control of family size. He sees it as a way to save lives: The fewer unplanned pregnancies a woman has, the lower her risk of maternal mortality. “If men are properly engaged in family planning then you can really call it safe parenthood,” he says.
Ochieng has already performed around 500 vasectomies since he started in 2009, and on November 18 celebrated World Vasectomy Day by carrying out dozens of the procedures for free in Nairobi.
The doctor spoke with Women & Girls Hub about his mission to get more men to take responsibility for birth control.
Women & Girls Hub: Why did you decide to start a vasectomy program for Kenyan men back in 2009?
Dr. Charles Ochieng: Firstly, I had to experience it. I had to get a vasectomy because I saw what my wife was going through and I was not happy. She used to use implants, small rods that are inserted into the upper arm just below the skin, which release hormones, and the hormones really caused her health problems. Her health really deteriorated. She had breakthrough bleeding frequently, she became very thin, some people suspected she had HIV/AIDs. We were not given the full information that implants can lead to this, but we found that these were possible side effects of implants.
By that time we already had two children, two cute little boys, and I was happy with the size of my family. So that’s why I said, Let me take personal responsibility in family planning, and that’s why I looked for a vasectomy provider, who was really hard to find.
Women & Girls Hub: Did you find one?
Ochieng: Finally I found a doctor who gave me the vasectomy and I realized that it was a simple, safe thing. So I asked myself, Why don’t we have a lot of doctors who can provide this, even in government facilities? After that I got really motivated, and I started doing a lot of research.
Women & Girls Hub: Very few men in Kenya seem to have heard of vasectomies, and those who have often believe it can do permanent damage. What are some of the myths you’ve heard?
Ochieng: The things they talk about are very unscientific. Some will tell you a vasectomy is like a castration, that you’ll never be able to get erect or have sex with a woman. One guy told me, after a vasectomy – because you are blocking the vas deferens, the tubes that transport the sperm – that the testicles will balloon, balloon up, and explode!
Another guy told me after a vasectomy your semen becomes very cold and you can give your wife pneumonia. Very weird things. But we as healthcare providers have not done enough to educate men and families about vasectomies.
Women & Girls Hub: When you tell men that those myths aren’t true, what is their reaction?
Ochieng: The response we’ve had in Nairobi is quite good. What we did first of all is establish a website with a lot of information about vasectomies, teaching men, drawing diagrams to show what happens, what they should do to prepare and what they should do afterwards to look after their bodies. They go, “Wow! So it is not what we thought.” Some men thought it was the removal of the testicles, but when they realize it is just blocking the tubes, they are happy.
Women & Girls Hub: Why is it important for men to take control of family planning?
Ochieng: I think we need to change the name of family planning. If you go to the clinics you just see women, so I don’t know why we call it “family” planning when the men are not involved. The overall objective of family planning is for a country to have a well-managed population that the government can take care of in terms of healthcare, education and security. In Kenya right now, the population is not managed well, that is why there are a lot of people who go hungry, they don’t have food, they don’t have medicine.
People are just focusing on the women, so we need to change our thinking and start involving men. Even if they don’t want to have a vasectomy, let them accompany women to family planning clinics so when the counseling is being done the men can fully understand the side effects on the women.
Men need to conceptualize and understand that they have a role. Once a man has had a vasectomy, the risk of death to the lady [is lower]. She can’t die. She can just enjoy sex and have fun, take care of the babies, take care of the man and life is beautiful. Like for me now.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Go to our Facebook page to watch our interview with Dr. Ochieng and other participants in World Vasectomy Day.