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Improving maternal health care for married women can save precious lives

By Our Correspondent
February 07, 2023

Islamabad:New estimates produced jointly by the Guttmacher Institute and the Population Council reveal critical gaps in reproductive health services for young married women of reproductive age (15–19) in Pakistan.

The factsheet ‘Investing in the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Adolescents in Pakistan,’ is based on Guttmacher report ‘Adding it Up’ and examines the current needs for contraceptive services for young mothers in Pakistan. The factsheet quantifies the health benefits of investing in contraceptive, maternal health care for young married women of ages 15-19 years and provides estimates of the cost of fully meeting these needs.

Findings show that simultaneously expanding both modern contraceptive services and maternal care would not only maximize benefits to women but would also be an efficient use of funds. Currently, of the 461,000 young mothers (15-19) who want to avoid a pregnancy in Pakistan, 364,000 or about three-fourths have an unmet need for modern contraceptives.

MNA Rumina Khurshid Alam, special assistant to Prime Minister and Convener National Parliamentary Task Force on SDGs attended the dissemination ceremony of the Population Council and Guttmacher’s factsheet and reiterated government’s commitment to population welfare. She stressed the need for increasing health awareness amongst young people at all levels and greater investment on expanding reproductive health services for adolescents through community midwives and Lady Health Workers programme.

In her opening remarks, MNA Rumina, said that the findings were released at a very appropriate time and provide strong research-based evidence of how much additional money Pakistan needs for mother and child healthcare and contraceptive care that will guide the government to increase funding in these areas. This study will be helpful in policymaking, allocation of funds and initiation of a constructive dialogue to overcome issues posed by unprecedented population growth. It shows that if all needs were met for contraceptive, maternal and newborn, and abortion care for young Pakistani mothers were met unintended pregnancies would be reduced from 221,000 to 62,000 per year (a 72% decline), abortions would decrease from 128,000 to 36,000 per year (72% decline and maternal deaths would be reduced from 1,020 to 250 per year (76% decline).

The findings also reveal each year, 397,000 young women (15-19) give birth in Pakistan, and more than half of them make fewer than the recommended four antenatal care visits, and 126,000 do not deliver in a health facility. The most common causes of maternal deaths among young mothers in Pakistan are hypertension, followed by unsafe abortion and haemorrhage. The factsheet recommends expanding contraceptive services will help offset the cost of improving pregnancy-related and maternal healthcare by reducing unintended pregnancies. Each additional dollar spent on expanding modern contraceptive use would save $4.52 on maternal and newborn health care.

At the plenary session during the meeting, representatives from the provincial and regional departments of health and population shared ongoing efforts to expand reproductive health services for adolescents and young people. Some of the initiatives undertaken by the departments are raising awareness on family planning at the community level, coordination with education, youth, sports and other local departments to conduct orientation sessions in schools and colleges on early marriages, health and hygiene, introducing life skills-based curriculum, integrating family planning messaging in nutrition and immunisation programmes and rebranding youth-friendly health clinics to promote uptake of contraceptive services for young married couples.

The meeting also featured a distinguished panel discussion on the importance of investing in adolescents’ reproductive health needs and hosted representatives from civil society, youth leaders and health practitioners. Panellists shared comprehensive and multi-faceted strategies are required to improve reproductive healthcare for ensuring the well-being of young mothers and their families. Eliminating early marriages, refocusing Lady Health Workers mandate to deliver family planning information and services at the doorstep of young couples, utilising existing media and communications network to promote the new national narrative on Tawazun, which calls for maintaining balance between family’s size and resources; reaching out to young girls and boys with accurate, reliable and credible information on reproductive health, pre-marital counselling on family planning and greater investments in education and employment opportunities for young couples particularly young married women was stressed.