Effective family planning services help empower communities

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Health Buzz

Back in the day, it was all up to fate how many kids a couple could have.

A woman would bear 10 children and there would be nothing amiss.

In fact, women who had more children were considerably valued by the family than those who chose to have one or two children. The family would always ask them when they would have more.

Plus, more children meant more manpower for the family. Girls would grow up and get married and the parents could claim lobola while the boys would get employed and take care of their elderly parents.

So the more children one had, the better their life would be when they grew old.

Or so they thought.

Bottom line is that women really had no choice in the matter of having children, or planning for them. They just accepted what fate gave them. Even if it was death.

Decades later, women can now choose the number of children they want to have. Well, they can even choose the type of contraception they want to use to ensure they do not end up with an unplanned pregnancy.

Great progress.

It might not be all women who can now access contraceptives freely, but the fact that a significant number can is something worth noting.

The world, after realising that a simple issue such as having access to contraception could have a positive impact on the development of countries, has been working towards making this a reality.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, everyone has the right to decide when, if and with whom they have children.

“Family planning can be contraception, like the pill, IUDs, hormonal implants, male and female condoms, and voluntary sterilisation. Family planning can also be fertility treatments and information on how to become pregnant. Whatever family planning may look like, it is always, always about choice. This means empowering women with the education and access to services they need to make informed decisions about what is best for their bodies, families, and futures,” says the UNFPA.

This week, Government representatives from more than 20 countries who are part of the Partners in Population and Development (PPD) met in Victoria Falls where they discussed issues around access to sexual reproductive health services and population development affecting them.

They were taking stock of the commitments they made in 2019 at the last International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Nairobi, which sought to get countries to address maternal deaths, unmet need for family planning services, and gender- based violence.

The countries made commitments in five areas namely: universal access to sexual and reproductive health; financial resources to finish the ICPD Program of Action; demographic diversity to drive economic growth and achieve sustainable development; gender-based violence and the harmful practices of child, early and forced marriages including female genital mutilation; and the right to sexual and reproductive health in humanitarian and fragile settings.

While a lot of progress has been made, there is still a long way to go before these goals can be achieved.

And ensuring women have access to family planning services is one way of achieving some these goals.

For Zimbabwe, the unmet need for family planning has declined from 13 percent to 10 percent.

The statistics also show that there has been a significant increase in modern contraceptive prevalence rates from 59 percent in 2011 to 68 percent in 2022, one of the highest CPR in the region.

According to Health and Child Minister Douglas Mombeshora, this shows that “technically, more families now have access to family planning services that enable them to make informed decisions about when and how many children to have”.

Zimbabwe signed the Family Planning 2030 Commitments and the Compact of Commitment which has resulted in an increase in domestic funding for family planning from the national health budget of 1,7 percent in 2013 to 2,4 percent in 2022.

“The Government of Zimbabwe, through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, has long been committed to providing and continuously improving access to quality integrated family planning and sexual reproductive health services. Just to mention a few of the actions we implored as a government, these among others include the enactment of the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Act of 1985, establishment of the Zimbabwe National Family Council (ZNFPC) which is an agency responsible for coordinating and taking leadership in the provision of FP/SRH services and the establishment of FP and SRH forums and the ICPD National Taskforce being coordinated by the agency ZNFPC clearly shows how the government prioritise reproductive health issues and in particular FP/SRH services as part of Primary Health Care,” the Minister said.

While many will think family planning is just about choosing when to get pregnant, it plays a bigger role in the achievement of all of the ICPD goals.

The primary purpose of family planning is to ensure adequate maternal and child health.

Studies show that one-third of the maternal deaths can be reduced through the adoption of family planning methods, which also lower the rate of deaths of children under the age of 5.

Pregnancy-related health risks are also very common especially among young girls hence family planning would help reduce these risks.

Unplanned teen pregnancies are cause for concern for any country as they can lead to unsafe abortion practices.

The UNFPA State of the World Population Report (SWOP) shows that nearly half of all pregnancies in the world are unintended while half a million births every year are to very young adolescents aged between 10 and 14 years.

Despite constituting about 63 percent of the total population in Zimbabwe, young people have difficulties in accessing sexual reproductive health services, contraceptives included. This has resulted in an increase in those unintended pregnancies.

A recent report released by the Government in partnership with the UNFPA, Unicef and Unesco revealed that about 21 percent of all 1,7 million pregnancies that happened in Zimbabwe between 2019 and 2022 were among young people aged between 10 to 19 years.

It means that a staggering 350 000 young girls fell pregnant within the three-year time frame.

This puts these young girls at risk of pregnancy related illnesses and death, something which could be avoided through the provision of comprehensive sexual reproductive health education and access to family planning services.

Family planning also increases the responsibility of the individuals in planning their sexual behaviour, childbirth, and pregnancies, thereby contributing positively to their holistic sexual and reproductive health.

But above all, family planning has socio-economic benefits as it aids mothers to pursue careers, continue with their education, and participate in social life.

Avoiding teenage pregnancies helps reduce school drop-outs, increases the college graduation rate, and helps them attain a decent socio-economic status.

It then falls on Governments to ensure that the family planning needs of communities are met for the ICPD goals to be achieved

As President Mnangagwa said on Monday: “Ultimately, the burden and responsibility to realise development that leaves no one and no place behind, within our respective countries is on us. Collectively, we must deliver.”

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