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close this bookThe Value of Family Planning Programs in Developing Countries (RAND, 1998, 98 p.)
close this folderChapter Three - THE RECORD OF FAMILY PLANNING
close this folderThe Basics of Program Success
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentResponding to Client Needs
View the documentManaging Effectively
View the documentPromoting Family Planning
View the documentSelecting a Delivery System
View the documentMobilizing Support


Beyond the general willingness and ability to unearth and respond to existing demand - whatever the form - are there specific structures, activities, or approaches essential for program success? In 1964, Bernard Berelson, a major figure in the population movement, proposed a set of requirements that have been expanded over time into the 30 items that give the family planning program effort score previously mentioned. The 30 items - shown grouped into sets in Table 3 in accordance with factor analysis results - are widely recognized as indicators of serious organizational effort.

The first two sets of items are central and essential. First, adequate program effort means providing access to a variety of contraceptive methods - pills, condoms, IUDs, sterilization - to meet the varying needs and preferences of couples. To provide such access, a good logistical system is needed. In addition - as the second set of items indicates - effective contraceptive provision requires managing the front-line providers: They have to be trained, made to focus on their assigned tasks, motivated to keep essential records on their clients, and properly supervised in their duties. A good management system that accomplishes these things will also periodically assess progress and use evaluation results to improve operations.

Table 3 - Family Planning Program Effort Items



Method access

Pills access

Proportion with easy access to pills or injectables

Condom access

Proportion with easy access to condoms, diaphragms, or spermicides

IUD access

Proportion with easy access to IUDs

Female sterilization

Availability of female sterilization and proportion with easy access

Male sterilization

Availability of male sterilization and proportion with easy access


How frequently stocks of supplies and equipment are adequate


Training programs

Adequacy of staff training programs

Tasks execution

How well all staff categories carry out assigned tasks


Whether client records are kept, summarized, and fed back to clinics

Managers use evaluation

Extent of use by program managers of evaluation and research results to improve program


Whether program-related demographic and operations research are conducted and whether staff or other institutions exist for this purpose


Adequacy of supervision at all levels


Government policy

Whether government officially supports family planning and population control

Public statements

Whether high officials publicly state support for family planning

Rank of leader

Rank in the bureaucracy of the family planning leadership

Other ministries

Involvement in population activities of ministries and government agencies without primary responsibility for service delivery

Civil bureaucracy used

Use of civil bureaucracy (including central, provincial, district, and county administrators) to ensure program directives are carried out


Whether incentives and disincentives are provided to clients or staff


Advertising restrictions

Freedom from restriction of contraceptive advertising in mass media

Social marketing

Extent of coverage by subsidized commercial contraceptive sales

Media coverage

Frequency and coverage of mass media messages

Medical approaches

Abortion access

Proportion with easy access to abortion under good conditions

Postpartum programs

Extent of coverage by postpartum programs

In-country budget

Proportion of family planning budget provided from country sources

Missionary approaches

Community distribution

Extent of coverage by community-based contraceptive distribution programs

Private agencies

Involvement of private-sector agencies and groups

Home visitors

Extent of coverage by family planning workers who visit women's homes


Administrative structure

Adequacy of national, provincial, and county administrative structure and staff

Age-at-marriage policy

How high the minimum legal marriage age for women is and how strongly it is enforced

Import laws

Whether laws facilitate contraceptive imports or local manufacture

SOURCES: Descriptions abridged from Mauldin and Lapham (1985, pp. 8-10). See Bulatao (1996) for grouping of items.

3These could include the health ministry, if it is not the primary service provider; the prime minister's office or its equivalent; and a host of other ministries in the areas of social security, planning and development, finance, interior, education, environment, youth and sports, transport, defense, women's affairs, mass media and information, foreign affairs, rural development, urban affairs, religious affairs, and social affairs.

The third set of items has to do with mobilization of government resources to support family planning. Six items reflect this: the adoption of a national population policy; supportive public statements from political leaders; the rank accorded to the program leadership within the government bureaucracy; the involvement of other ministries besides the service delivery agency itself; the involvement of the civil bureaucracy at regional, provincial, and local levels; and the provision of incentives or disincentives to family planning clients or staff. This set of items is somewhat problematic; official support is essential in obtaining program resources but can easily shade into official pressure. In fact, the last item, the provision of incentives, needs to be carefully handled so as not to lead to undue influence on potential clients (Isaacs, 1995).

More consistently important than mobilization is program activity to reach the population with appropriate messages (the fourth set of items), especially through mass media, advertising, and commercial sales. The last two sets of items reflect delivery-system alternatives chosen in some but not other cases: clinic-based or largely "medical" alternatives, such as postpartum programs and abortion, and outreach systems, often with a strong volunteer component, such as community-based distribution, private agencies, and home visitation.

Rather than strict program requirements, a number of these items are alternatives that may be more or less important in particular settings. Few programs receive high scores across all these areas, and even some quite successful programs do little in some areas. In Bangladesh, for instance, where an extensive review of experience concludes that program-promoted changes in acceptability and availability of contraception have been much more responsible for fertility decline than any changes in preferred family size, a few of the items just discussed were identified as critical (Cleland et al., 1994, pp. 97, 122):

· an organizational culture of excellence, stressing dedication to realistic goals and "insulating the workforce from dysfunctional social pressures"

· frequent contact with clients by outreach workers with basic technical skills and strong supervision

· reliable supply of multiple methods and available follow-up and ancillary services.

The essential elements of organizational effort may vary not only by setting but also by stage of development of the program. Table 4 indicates the stages a program goes through, drawing on several schemes suggested by researchers (Bulatao, 1993; Vriesendorp et al., 1989; Keller et al., 1989; Townsend, 1991; Bernhart, 1991).

Table 4 Stages in Program Development

Initial Level of Family Planning Effort

Dominant Concern

Client Focus

Main Source of Support

Extensiveness of Program Functioning

Very weak (0-24)


Highly motivated couples

Donors and voluntary organizations

Very few sites

Weak (25-54)


Couples with unmet demand


Limited coverage

Moderate (55-79)


Broad populations


Extensive coverage

Strong (80+)


Least accessible populations


Increasingly selective coverage

SOURCE: World Bank (1993).

The evidence that program actions in each of these areas contribute to success is varied and complex (and not without occasional contradictions). Some evidence will be briefly reviewed, covering the provision of access to methods and satisfaction of other client needs, management issues, promotion through the media, delivery systems, and political and financial support.

Responding to Client Needs

Consider first some of the evidence that a program that responds to client needs increases contraceptive use:

· Improved access to services helps clients. Access can vary greatly: Some countries may have only one service point for 15,000 women; in others, every community may have at least one such facility. Such variation in proximity to services, according to a review of 16 studies that differ widely in methodology, does affect contraceptive use, even controlling for other factors (Tsui and Ochoa, 1989; Angeles et al., 1996). Expanding access when contraceptive use is still limited is especially important (Phillips et al., 1994).

· Facilities or field-workers must, of course, have contraceptive supplies available. This is often an obstacle in newer programs, such as several in sub-Saharan Africa that suffer from supply shortages and inadequate logistical planning (UNFPA, 1990). Providing not only reliable supplies but also a wider range of appropriate methods increases use. In the Philippines, for instance, providing an additional method through clinics raises prevalence by 5 percentage points (Samara et al., 1996, p. 48). Increasing method choice need not be costly; data from Bangladesh suggest that adding reversible methods to a program that relies heavily on sterilization need not raise the cost per birth prevented (Simmons et al., 1991).

· Measures that promote continued use are also helpful. Improved counseling and better client information, for instance, lead to better method choices, fewer complaints about side effects, less-frequent discontinuation (W H O, 1980), fewer method failures, and less need for abortion. But the possible choices still have drawbacks that discourage some women, although others persevere despite them. Focus-group researchers quote one woman in Karachi as saying: "There is pain in these methods, but at least there is no danger that the woman will conceive" (Snow et al., n.d.). Research to improve contraceptive methods and develop new ones is still critical and requires continued public-sector funding (Harrison and Rosenfield, 1996).

· Whether ancillary services should also be provided is a complicated issue involving difficult trade-offs. Clients have other needs and demands besides contraception, and a program that can address these may be more effective and may also make critical contributions in such related areas as the attempt to contain the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the acquired immun-odeficiency syndrome (AIDS).4 Some added services, including pregnancy tests, Pap smears, and screening for sexually transmitted diseases, are sufficiently integral to providing contraception that their role in a clinical program is clear. Other services range farther afield, from emergency obstetric services to income-generating activities for women and female education. Certainly desirable themselves, such activities may also promote lower fertility preferences, and combining them with family planning may have synergistic effects. Recognizing such arguments, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo supported the idea of family planning as one among various reproductive health interventions, all to be pursued together. However, ancillary interventions increase program costs, in some cases (as with emergency obstetric services) by quite substantial amounts, and additional financing is seldom easily available. Family planning program staff are not necessarily the proper people to provide ancillary services. Integrating such staff into larger health organizations risks submerging concerns about family planning, which seldom receive adequate attention within health ministries (Finkle and Ness, 1985). For these reasons, the debate about "vertical" (stand-alone) family planning programs versus integrated programs run as part of health ministries has continued unresolved for decades. A series of careful quasi-experiments in Bangladesh concludes that

minimal health provision indeed may indirectly benefit contraceptive acceptance. However, the addition of a broader range of health skills and supplies made no further impact on the success of family planning. Rather there was evidence of a drop in contraceptive use as the attention and energies of workers were diverted. ... Integration must be justified on grounds other than enhanced family planning effectiveness (Cleland et al., 1994, p. 146).

4Attempts at integrating services for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) with family planning, as in Mombasa, Kenya (Twahir et al., 1996), and eastern Uganda (Mukaire et al., 1997), suggest that there are advantages for family planning programs in offering more services, but also difficulties posed by the increased responsibilities. Serious questions also remain about the accuracy of STI diagnoses and the cost-effectiveness of integrated services (Maggwa and Askew, 1997).

The issue of what services to combine with family planning therefore remains to be approached in each case as a matter of values and objectives, but with full awareness of the practical consequences.5

5See Tsui, Wasserheit, and Haaga (1997, pp. 158-163) for a further discussion of the issues from the perspective of reproductive health services - a discussion that does not, however, appear to come to a clear conclusion.

Managing Effectively

Elements of good management also contribute to more contraceptive use. Informal comparisons of national programs easily demonstrate this, but it is difficult to control complicating factors. More precise evidence therefore usually comes from experiments or small studies.

· Training can improve provider performance. This is an article of faith for most programs. Several hundred short-term training courses in family planning and maternal health are conducted each year around the world in more than two dozen different languages. Studies in such countries as Bangladesh, Ecuador, Morocco, and Ghana confirm that trained field-workers and supervisors perform better (Finkle and Ness, 1985; Gallen and Rinehart, 1986, p. 825; Brown et al., 1995), and other studies indicate the need for periodic retraining (Gallen and Rinehart, 1986, p. 826). Training does have to match the specific provider's needs, reflect actual problems and options, emphasize practical skills, and focus on developing competence.

· Good supervision is often cited as a central element in program success, given the many shortcomings of supervisors who must labor under "low salaries, harsh working conditions, and the absence of performance-based rewards" and are distracted by administrative requirements and their own pressing personal affairs (Simmons, 1987, p. 251). Studies in Nigeria, Guatemala, Turkey, and Brazil (Townsend, 1991, p. 55; Foreit and Foreit, 1984) indicate that frequent supervisory visits increase program effectiveness. What supervisory visits cover is critical: Providing training and reinforcement and actually observing worker contacts have much more effect than merely collecting management information.

· Strategic planning, aided by reliable evaluation data and good applied research into program options (usually referred to as "operations research"), contributes to program success. The East Asian experience, in which extensive field experiments and continuing research and evaluation were used to guide program expansion (as well as to generate public support), and the similar experience in Bangladesh suggest the importance of these factors. Reviews of development programs similarly suggest the importance of strategic planning or strategic management (Paul, 1983), which requires sensitivity to the environment a program faces.

Targeting services to those most in need, or collecting some payment from those who can afford it, is a sensible option that can improve financial sustainability. Nominal price increases do not appear to affect contraceptive use substantially, as studies of price elasticities in Jamaica and in several Southeast Asian countries suggest (Lewis, 1996). However, the time and the manner for introducing such changes require careful consideration in each case, especially so they do not affect the poor (Lande and Geller, 1991).

Promoting Family Planning

Promotional activities to reach the public, particularly through mass media, can have substantial effect but have to be properly done. Brief 30-second "spots" in Peru had only a small effect (Westoff et al., 1994). In contrast, continuing publicity about family planning had a greater effect in India. A large national survey established that exposure to a family planning message in the past month increased the number intending to use contraceptives by 6 percentage points, controlling for socioeconomic factors and for general media exposure (Ramesh et al., 1996). Finally, an extensive media campaign in Nigeria, with radio and TV dramas, music videos with popular artists, billboards, bumper stickers, and so on, demonstrated a clear effect on behavior. Among those exposed to media messages in 1990, almost twice as many were using contraception three years later than among those not exposed. The influence of exposure appeared more often among those who then discussed family planning issues with current users and was greater on initial adoption than on continuation. Media exposure also appeared responsible for reducing fertility preferences by about half a child (Bankole et al., 1996; Bankole and Adewuyi, 1994). Advertising in particular can make a difference: Condom sales are more closely linked to advertising than to any other factor (Boone et al., 1985).

Selecting a Delivery System

The major distinctions among delivery systems are between clinic-based delivery, community-based distribution (or outreach systems more generally), and commercial distribution. An overlapping distinction may also be made between public and private distribution, although private systems may involve some degree of public subsidy. These different systems are often complementary:

· Clinics are needed for such methods as sterilization and to provide backup for outreach workers and referral, when needed, for clients' medical problems. Proximity to clinics increases contraceptive use, as noted earlier, up to the point at which clinics and other facilities are easily accessible to everyone.

· Community-based distribution involves bringing contraceptives to women in their own communities, rather than requiring them to travel to clinics. Such efforts are especially needed where clinics are too sparse and too expensive to build and maintain. They often depend on local residents with a few weeks' training, who receive no fixed salary but may have various incentives. Their effectiveness at increasing contraceptive use has been demonstrated in many countries, including Egypt, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bangladesh (Gallen and Rinehart, 1986; Bertrand, 1991). However, at higher levels of contraceptive prevalence in Brazil and the Eastern Caribbean, community-based distribution had minimal effect. With the large workforce they require, the costs of community-based distribution can be a concern. These costs can vary from US$5 to US$150 per user per year (Huber and Harvey, 1989). For each setting in which outreach is needed, the most cost-effective way to provide outreach needs to be considered.

· Distributing partly subsidized contraceptives through commercial channels, aided by catchy advertising, has become known as contraceptive social marketing. This provides an alternative source of supply, especially for condoms and pills, that can be more congenial for some users and therefore can expand contraceptive use. To the extent these are new users or switch from government programs, the considerably lower cost of social marketing saves public funds; however, users may also switch from purely commercial outlets.

· Private voluntary organizations operate a range of distribution systems, some involving clinics and others concentrating on outreach. Volunteer programs have been critical in introducing family planning in various settings and are still useful for reaching specific target groups, such as adolescents, and for providing some competition and some savings to government programs.

· Additional delivery systems of many types often coexist with these. Private physicians and midwives often provide some contraceptive services on their own, although they would often benefit from specific training in family planning. Health insurance or other employer-supported programs may cover contraceptive services. Commercial outlets may be better or worse at supplying contraceptives. Since expanding service outlets and generally making family planning more available lead to increased contraceptive use, the multiplication of such distribution systems can be useful, and public programs should be designed to complement rather than to discourage them.6

6See World Bank (1993a, pp. 68-69) for an example of how commercial services can be disrupted by a public program.

Mobilizing Support

Political support is essential to enable a program in such a sensitive area as family planning to achieve respectability and have sustained effect. Programs depend on politically allocated resources. At least as important, they also depend on a positive, widespread popular response, which is greatly aided by visible political support. Government endorsement of family planning helps legitimize what is initially innovative behavior and can helpfully be supplemented by support from the media, voluntary organizations, and even religious groups. Official support has grown over the decades and is now close to universal, but the depth of this support and the extent to which it is reflected in effective government action still vary considerably.

Government support does have to be tempered to preserve voluntary individual choice. This is important not only to protect human rights but also for pragmatic reasons. Coercive programs cannot succeed or even survive for long in countries that aspire to be democratic. India attempted to force sterilizations after emergency rule was declared in the mid-1970s; partly as a result, the government was soon voted out of office. The most coercive modern program was launched in China by a government intent on controlling every aspect of life, including childbearing. China is the only country that has "penalized people specifically and directly for violating population policy" (Li, 1995, p. 563). Yet the Chinese one-child policy has been remarkably ineffective. An analysis of fertility in Hebei and Tianjin (around the capital) concludes that "The majority of Chinese women ... ignored birth-quota regulations, refused to accept the one-child certificate, and bore the burden of heavy financial penalties" (Li, 1995, p. 582). International donors have generally turned away from such coercive programs and have been increasingly active in improving the quality and service orientation of the programs they assist.

International donors have played an important role in helping to marshal government support for voluntary family planning programs. They have done this not only through financial assistance for services but also through political dialogue, at successive world population conferences for instance (Bucharest in 1974, Mexico City in 1984, Cairo in 1994), which allowed a consensus to build in favor of family planning. Donors have also largely underwritten such activities as the World Fertility Survey and the Demographic and Health Surveys and contributed to various rounds of national censuses, which have demonstrated to governments the specific population-growth scenarios they face. Donor influence in initiating and strengthening programs has been substantial, as has been argued by such observers as Warwick (1982, p. 44), who states that, at least through the 1980s "of all the spheres of national development, population has been the most donor driven."

Some impact of donor funding on ongoing programs appears in statistical analysis, although not consistently. In comparisons across Asian countries up to the early 1980s, Ness and Ando (1984) found that the volume of outside financial aid did not affect program strength. But more recently, Tsui (1997) has shown that, across all recipient countries, population assistance from the United States (through USAID, the agency responsible for bilateral foreign-aid programs) has a small but significant impact on program effort. The inconclusive statistical evidence is understandable: donors naturally are selective in their assistance, sometimes choosing more promising settings, sometimes more impoverished ones, and often ones with which they have some special cultural or political link. This makes interpretation difficult.

Anecdotal evidence and experience suggest several ways in which donor influence has been important to ongoing programs:

· in providing the training and developing the technical and managerial resources on which programs rely

· in encouraging new approaches, from new contraceptive methods, such as implants, to new strategies, such as community-based distribution and social marketing

· in sponsoring research into ways to make programs work better, research that nascent programs seldom can spend their own time and resources on

· in encouraging service standards in such areas as the need for informed consent.

Donor involvement in a program is not a guarantee of success, but it provides resources that, coupled with national commitment and a reasonable strategy, can accelerate the progress of a program.