Family planning: how can the health workforce provide meaningful family support?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Zainab Abid Shah, a second-year medical student currently studying at the Services Institute of Medical Sciences (SIMS), Lahore, Pakistan. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Liberté – the right to freedom – is most certainly the necessity of the human race in all times. In which, family planning is just as crucial as other rights, however it’s frequently pushed under the rug, specifically in developing countries, where the mere term ‘intercourse’ is deemed taboo. Access to consensual, safe family planning is a fundamental human right. It is essential to gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as a significant element in alleviating poverty.

Political instability, prevalent cultural and religious factors contribute to the grim picture of public and reproductive health in developing countries, specifically in Africa and Asia-Pacific regions. To make matters worse, religious debates regarding women’s roles in society have infiltrated into the family planning discussion, as many countries still consider that family planning is ‘unethical,’ negatively affecting political support for family planning concerns. Approximately, 218 million women in developing regions don’t use proper family planning due to a lack of expertise, services, or partner support. It hinders their chance to better themselves, their families, and their communities.

On the contrary, in developed countries, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses are prevailing public health problems. Though sexual abstinence is the widest method to avoid these conditions, abstinence-only education programmes in schools are ineffective at delaying onset of sexual activity. Conversely, comprehensive sexual education (CSE) programmes in high schools have been observed to reduce unintended pregnancies and delay sex initiation more compellingly. The CSE strategy emphasizes sexuality and reproduction awareness and empowers adolescents to access contraceptives and avert unwanted pregnancies.

UNFPA leads on a global scale to increase access to family planning giving developing countries programmatic, technical, and financial help. Additionally, following strategies are essential to inculcate family planning on a deeper level:

  • There’s a need to formulate health workforce, including doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers, with the goal to reach some of the most vulnerable groups: the unmarried, the adolescents, the poor, migrants and rural women, and provide them with necessary sex education.
  • Community health workers can now provide family planning services, including contraceptives, at a wider scale thanks to the exponential rise of mobile technology around the world.
  • Medical students need to mobilize to provide CSE in educational institutes through seminars, webinars, campaigns etc. This step is particularly impactful as the adolescents will be more willing and open to discuss taboo sex issue with their fellow youngsters, rather than being fed abstinence from their teachers and parents.
  • Community literacy and exposure are the key. Women with a secondary education are three times more likely than those without to use contraception and family planning.

Promotion of family planning in countries with high birth rates has the potential to significantly reduce poverty and hunger, prevent 32% of all maternal fatalities and nearly 10% of all infant deaths. State, religious leaders, the health sector, youth, and social media influencers can educate and constructively administer family planning among the masses.

References

  1. https://www.unfpa.org/family-planning
  2. Cleland, J., Bernstein, S., Ezeh, A., Faundes, A., Glasier, A., & Innis, J. (2006). Family planning: the unfinished agenda. The lancet, 368(9549), 1810-1827. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673606694804
  3. Braun, R., Lasway, C., Agarwal, S., L’Engle, K., Layer, E., Silas, L., … & Kudrati, M. (2016). An evaluation of a family planning mobile job aid for community health workers in Tanzania. Contraception, 94(1), 27-33. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010782415300196
  4. Rabbitte, M., & Enriquez, M. (2019). The role of policy on sexual health education in schools. The Journal of School Nursing, 35(1), 27-38.  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1059840518789240
  5. World Health Organization. (2012). Optimizing the health workforce for effective family planning services: policy brief (No. WHO/RHR/HRP/12.19). World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/75164/WHO_RHR_HRP_12.19_eng.pdf

About the author

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Zainab Abid Shah, a second-year medical student currently studying at the Services Institute of Medical Sciences (SIMS), Lahore, Pakistan. She is an active member of International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), a cordial partner of The Sting. She is passionate about mental health and joint ventures in the medical research field. She likes to spend her free time volunteering for several youth mobilizing programs and writing fiction.

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