|Health Benefits of Family Planning (WHO, 1995, 38 p.)|
Efforts to expand and improve family planning services can have a significant impact on saving and improving the lives of women and their families. Many individuals and couples throughout the world want to space or limit their births but are not using contraception (see Figure 1). Policy makers and programme managers can take the following key steps to ensure that high quality contraceptive services are available and accessible to all who want them:
1. Remove policy barriers that limit access and choice.
Policies that unnecessarily restrict access to contraceptives include making certain methods illegal (such as voluntary sterilization), restricting advertising for contraceptive methods, limiting contraceptive distribution only to physicians, requiring that contraceptives only be supplied to women who have their husbands consent, and requiring unnecessary import duties and customs regulations for contraceptives.
2. Remove medical barriers that limit access and choice.
In many countries, overly restrictive medical requirements limit access to contraception.
In many countries, overly restrictive medical requirements limit access to contraception. Where requirements are based on outdated information or on misperceptions about methods, medical recommendations and requirements should be updated to include the most appropriate and essential criteria. In a few countries, unnecessary restrictions include requiring oral contraceptive users to have blood tests every three to six months and prohibiting injectable contraceptive use in women without children. Provider bias against certain methods also influences the choices offered to clients.
3. Provide financial support for family planning services.
Family planning is a cost-effective investment that ultimately saves lives and saves money. Although the costs of providing family planning services can vary considerably from programme to programme, it has been estimated that worldwide, between US$11-15 billion will be required annually to achieve a contraceptive prevalence rate of 70 percent by the year 2000. This requires a significant increase over the current expenditure level of US$4.6 billion (Speidel, 1993). Both donor agencies and country governments need to substantially increase their financial commitments to family planning to achieve this level of support.
4. Make a broad range of methods available through various delivery routes.
Clients are more likely to use contraceptives if they are presented with a choice of methods and services that are easily accessible.
Clients are more likely to use contraceptives if they are presented with a choice of methods and services that are easily accessible. Wherever possible, programmes should make a wide range of contraceptives available through a variety of sources, including maternal and child health clinics, prenatal and postpartum care centres, community-based distribution systems, STD services, health services for adolescents and men, and private sector sources.
5. Use appropriate information, education, and communication strategies to inform people about family planning.
Programmes can help to ensure that couples have enough information to make an informed decision about their contraceptive choice by providing face-to-face counselling supplemented with appropriate print materials and by using the mass media. All possible and appropriate community-based communication channels and systems should be utilized, particularly those involving local leaders, healers, and events. All forms of communication should be culturally appropriate and respectful of the clients needs. The counselling process should be an interactive one; whenever possible, providers should ask clients to state what they have heard in their own words to ensure that they understand the information being provided.
6. Support provider training and supervision.
Training workers in interpersonal communication and counselling skills as well as in technical aspects of contraceptive service provision yields positive results. Clients who receive services from trained providers are more likely to accept and use contraception, report fewer and milder side effects, and return for regular visits. Supportive supervision helps to reinforce skills learned in training.
7. Support research and evaluation of family planning methods and programmes.
Research on how family planning programmes operate can help determine the best ways of providing different contraceptive methods in diverse cultures and programme settings.
Research on contraceptive technologies contributes to the development of new methods, improvement of existing methods, and knowledge of method safety. Research on how family planning programmes operate can help determine the best ways of providing different contraceptive methods in diverse cultures and programme settings. Information from both types of research is critical to expanding the acceptability and impact of family planning programmes.