At the recently concluded FP2020 Summit in London in July 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) reaffirmed its commitment to enable access to and improve the choice and quality of family planning services. The objective is to increase the modern contraceptive usage from 53.1 per cent to 54.3 per cent and ensure that 74 per cent of the demand for modern contraceptives is met by 2020. In an effort to fulfill this commitment, the Government of India is engaged in improving access and availability of spacing methods. The roll out of new methods will not only help in expanding the basket of contraceptive choices but also help sharpen the focus on spacing methods. A significant step in this direction has been the roll out of Antara (injectable contraceptive) and Chhaya (Centchroman) in 10 states of India to kick-start the Mission Parivar Vikas (MPV) programme.
However, the MPV initiative is limited to 146 high fertility districts, which means that access to the new methods will be restricted in other districts across India. Responding to this, Dr Kalpana Apte, Secretary General of the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) and a representative of the Advocating Reproductive Choices (ARC), a coalition of civil society organisations committed to promoting a rights-based approach to family planning, says, “The roll out of the two new contraceptives is an encouraging move. However, it does bring us to the question when the third method Progestin-only pills will be included in the basket of choice. Couples should have access to every available contraceptive choice along with the appropriate counselling. This will help them to make an informed choice that is best suited to them.”
According to the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) IV data, the unmet need for contraceptives is 12.9 per cent. Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of Population Foundation of India and an ARC representative says, “In India, millions of women lack access to contraceptive options or are fearful of using them due to lack of information about the choices that are available to them. This has an impact not only on the maternal and infant health indicators but also, by extension, on the public health indicators and development of the country. While the roll out of MPV will take care of the availability and access to contraceptives in select districts of high fertility states, it also needs to be ensured that the family planning needs of other areas of the country are not neglected in the bargain.”
Family planning is a tool that can empower people by averting the vicious cycle of unplanned pregnancies and unhealthy families that is also counter-productive to individual well-being and economic growth. Studies have shown that increasing one contraceptive method in an existing basket of choice has resulted in an 8 to 12 per cent increase in the use of modern contraceptives. In developing countries, providing couples with access to and choice of quality family planning methods has a direct, positive impact on indicators of maternal mortality, infant mortality and women’s empowerment.