Family planning is critical for our nation’s economic developmenthttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/family-planning-child-mortality-planning-the-future/

Family planning is critical for our nation’s economic development

Family planning is at the core of the mission to reduce maternal and child mortality.

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45 per cent of the country’s maternal deaths occur in the age group of 15 to 25 years.

India launched the world’s first National Family Planning Programme way back in 1952 and has been consistently working towards improving health and reducing fertility for sustainable development. World over, governments have recognised the criticality of investing in the health and wellbeing of women and children and the Sustainable Development Goals are proof of the global community’s commitment to improving public health services for women and children.

Public health concerns are central to our governance, and the health of women, children and adolescents is one of the most prominent and pressing agendas for our government. Our public health delivery system will play a key role in putting an end to all preventable child and maternal deaths and we are committed to strengthening processes, ensuring quality care and providing access to every woman and child.

The benefits of family planning extend well beyond a woman’s health, to her wellbeing and prosperity. When couples choose to have smaller families, they have the means to provide for them and build a more prosperous future not only for themselves, but for the entire nation. Improving access to quality family planning tools and services is central to our mission to improve the health and wellbeing of women and children, families and communities across India.

In recent years, we have made much progress. Compared to the global achievement of 47 per cent reduction in maternal mortality from 1990 to 2011-13, India achieved 65 per cent reduction during the same period. However, considering 45 per cent of the country’s maternal deaths occur in the age group of 15 to 25 years, where 52 per cent of our total fertility is also clustered, we can do more to ensure that women experience healthy pregnancies and safe childbirth. Family planning is crucial to that effort.

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As we mark the start of the National Family Planning Summit 2016 today, I am proud to re-emphasise our commitment to improving the health of India’s women and girls. Crucially, our interventions are all grounded in the central aim of empowering more women to make informed choices about their health and future.

Women are at the core of any family planning initiative and the government is utilising the global FP2020 platform to focus on improving access to family planning services through the provision of fixed day static services, expanding the basket of choice, addressing the demand for contraceptives as well as improving the overall access and quality of services.

First, to expand our outreach and ensure that family planning information reaches the maximum number of people, the government is committed to providing family planning services and commodities absolutely free to every client, including 23.7 crore couples in the reproductive age group across the country.

Second, we will strengthen community partnerships to reach more women with the services that they want and choose. Such partnerships are proving to be a game-changer in helping to overcome the geographical, social as well as economic challenges that a country as large and diverse as India presents. Asha workers are a great example of how community partnerships can help in the delivery of public health services. At the village level, more than 9,00,000 Ashas are delivering pregnancy testing kits and contraceptives, including condoms, oral contraceptive pills as well as emergency contraceptive pills, at the doorstep of clients. They have been instrumental in counselling couples on the benefits of timing and spacing their pregnancies. Community partnerships and accountability mechanisms will go a long way in strengthening health systems and ease last-mile delivery of services.

Third, we know that when women have access to a wider range of contraceptives, they are more likely to find a contraceptive that is appropriate for them. Post-partum family planning (PPFP), including post-partum intra-uterine contraceptive device (PPIUCD) services, has been instrumental in providing post-partum women an effective spacing option. Since inception, almost 17 lakh PPIUCD insertions have been done. We have further improved the quality and design of all our contraceptive commodities to increase their uptake and as part of our continued efforts to offer Indian women a broader basket of choice, a method mix of contraceptives — injectables, centchroman and progestin-only pills (Pops) — have recently been introduced into the public health system under the National Family Planning Programme.

We will ensure that our health workers are trained to provide quality counselling to couples about their family planning choices, including the equal promotion of all contraceptive methods by service providers who are skilled and equipped to inform and support them without bias or discrimination.

Our priority is to develop robust policies that are backed by high-impact strategies and health interventions. We will also work closely through private-sector engagement, using approaches such as social marketing and franchising to help us consistently build strong public-private partnerships to ensure that our interventions reach everyone.

Ultimately, family planning is not just about smaller, healthier families.

Family planning is critical for our nation’s economic development, and is a big first step towards growth, equality and sustainable development that opens the door to opportunity and prosperity for women and families everywhere.

(This article’s print edition carried the headline ‘Planning the Future’)