Friday May 24, 2024

‘Unmet need for family planning highest amongst poorest women’

By Myra Iman
January 13, 2023

Islamabad : “Poorest women in Pakistan need to be provided subsidies for travel and other out-of-pocket expenses incurred to meet service provider fees in reaching family planning services through incentivized voucher schemes,” said Faisal Kundi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety at the ceremony to launch scale-up of family planning voucher scheme in Punjab, organised by the Population Council.

The ceremony was held to commemorate the scale-up of the voucher scheme in five districts of Punjab, after its successful pilot in Rahimyar Khan. The scale-up is being jointly implemented by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Punjab Population Innovation Fund (PPIF) and the Population Council with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Dera Ghazi Khan division of Punjab.

Addressing participants at the launch, SAPM Faisal Kundi said government accords the highest-level priority to poverty alleviation and to achieve that reducing the population growth rate is critical. He further said evidence generated from the scale-up of the voucher scheme will support the government of Pakistan in implementing similar programmes that provide better health outcomes to the poorest women.

“Public-private partnership, evidence generation and technology interventions must be promoted in the health sector to overcome inequities in access to health services,” he added. He said that he would recommend to the prime minister that health and population welfare departments should work with social safety net programmes to introduce conditional cash transfer schemes to enable poor women to access family planning services.

He said that government accord high priority to enhancing the health and well-being of the people by making family planning and reproductive health services more accessible. The government is developing a dynamic and comprehensive survey to identify vulnerable population who needs urgent support, especially after the recent flood. In her welcome address, Dr. Zeba Sathar, Country Director Population Council said, “The right to family planning services is most compromised for marginalised population mainly due to financial constraints.” Enhanced funding and expanding couples’ choice by reducing financial barriers to contraceptive services will produce a much-needed boost in meeting both family planning and maternal health goal, she added.

Presenting a compelling case of upscaling an innovative model to provide family planning services to marginalized communities, Population Council shared the case for scale-up that builds on the successful intervention by the pilot in 2019 which served over 22000 BISP beneficiaries in a short span of five months in 2021 through conditional cash transfer confirming that poorest women with unmet need for family planning services need to be targeted with subsidies.

The model is being replicated in the DG Khan division this year to serve disadvantaged populations. Sharing plans for the scale-up of the voucher scheme, Talha Hussain Faisal, CEO, of the Punjab Population Innovation Fund (PPIF) said the voucher scheme will be up-scaled in five districts of Dera Ghazi Khan division to serve BISP beneficiaries with high unmet needs through a digital voucher management system that has been developed by the Population Council which will reimburse the cost of travel and family planning services for the women and the private service providers.

Naveed Akbar, Director General (CCT)/ Waseela-e-Taleem, BISP said the government is committed to enhancing access to health and reproductive health services through financing innovative models. He shed light on ongoing efforts by BISP to integrate family planning services in its health and nutrition programmes. He also recommended voucher programmes must be scaled up across Pakistan to increase contraceptive use amongst poorer households. He appreciated the efforts that have been provided by the Population Council that builds the case for scale-up.

He said that poorer families have larger household sizes and BISP is in discussion with Population Council in helping beneficiaries to provide family planning services through conditional cash transfers under existing payment schemes. The launch ceremony also featured a panel discussion on the potential of voucher programmes to enhance family planning uptake featuring representatives from the federal health ministry, provincial and regional health and population welfare departments, and members of social protection units. Panellists discussed various aspects of the voucher schemes which have proven to be successful around the globe in increasing family planning uptake, reducing unintended pregnancies and lowering maternal-child mortality.

Panellists recommended integrating nutrition, and maternal and child health services in the voucher programmes for family planning to widen its scope for disadvantaged communities. Panellists also recommended integrating family planning into national planning and development programmes and policies to reach vulnerable segments of the population.

The CEO of the Sehat Sahulat Programme, Dr. Muhammad Arshad, offered support in utilizing opportunities for counselling women on family planning who come for Maternal and Newborn Child Health (MNCH) services.

Dr. Jamil Ahmed from United Nations Population Fund reaffirmed UNFPA’s support to work with the government of Pakistan to ensure uninterrupted family planning services for all segments of the population. UNFPA supported the design and evaluation of the voucher scheme through the Population Council. The meeting was attended by members of the Punjab assembly, members from provincial population welfare and health departments, international partners, health practitioners, academia and civil society.