Health secretary admits failure to implement family planning

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LAHORE – Punjab Health Secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad admitted on Tuesday that due to lack of a firm commitment on part of the Punjab government, efforts to implement family planning and promote reproductive health have been inconsistent so far.
“Most of medical officers, even senior medical officers working in rural areas are unaware of basic concepts of reproductive health”, he said adding that no government, resource generation or GDP could cater to such a rapid increase in population.
He was addressing the inaugural session of a three-day workshop, organised at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) on “Basic Minimum Family Planning Content Package for Medical Colleges”. The workshop is being organised by the Population Council, an international research organisation, in collaboration with USAID and Jhpiego, which is an affiliate of the John Hopkins University, US.
The workshop is part of a large scale project, “Family Advancement for Life and Health (FALAH)”, funded by USAID and being implemented in 15 districts of the country. The project aims at improving access to ‘birth spacing’ for all Pakistanis who want to use this approach to ensure safer pregnancies. Objective of the workshop is to improve the capacity of future providers to help meet reproductive health needs of the people.
The health secretary said that in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, a sense of enthusiasm and dedication within the health system was required. “Focusing merely on infrastructure is inadequate. With this apologetic attitude towards population control, it would be impossible to achieve the MDG by 2015”, he warned.
Fawad added that efforts were required to engage civil society, social activists and academia more closely in a debate for lowering fertility, as a mean for improving maternal and infant health indicators. He said that Punjab government had increased budgetary allocation for health sector from Rs 10 billion to 40 billion in the last two and a half years.
“It has been made mandatory for medical officers working in rural areas to work three days a week in the field with lady health workers (LHW) and community midwives (CMW) to engage them in preventive activities”, he maintained.
The health secretary fully endorsed the FALAH project initiative of introducing birth spacing as a mean to improve family health and said that it was something which the public-sector should have done long ago. UHS Vice-Chancellor MH Mubbashar said that the maternal mortality rate in Pakistan was 276 per 100,000 whereas infant mortality rate was 78/1000 and neonatal mortality rate was 54/1000, which was alarming.
He said that recent advances in medical sciences were not able to deliver in Pakistan because people here were resilient to change. The UHS VC said that family planning was need of the hour and the UHS had already introduced reproductive health in the curriculum from the first year in affiliated medical colleges.
“The planners now need to move beyond the “Two children; happy family” syndrome. It is time to confront fears and misgivings associated with the use of contraceptives. Education and sufficient information is needed to allow people to make choices”, Mubbashar said.
The UHS VC appreciated efforts made by the Population Council’s FALAH project on helping improving medical education on a topic of vital national interest. He said that the UHS offered its complete support to the FALAH project in taking forward the birth spacing agenda in Pakistan by making both the current and future medical professionals more proficient in area of birth spacing.
Dr Ali Mir, FALAH’s chief of party, said that the project had adopted a multi pronged approach to improve access to birth spacing services that included gross root community mobilisation through use of both the mass media and interpersonal communication and greater involvement of the private sector in service delivery as well as enhancing outreach of social marketing services.
“More importantly FALAH is working to improve quality of care being offered in public-sector facilities. For this purpose a comprehensive training strategy has been developed”, he said adding that under the FALAH project, 11,000 lady health workers had so far been trained on providing high quality client centred family planning services.
Similarly, 3500 male and 1500 female practitioners in all four provinces had been trained under the project. He said that the project aimed at promoting family planning practices in a holistic manner for betterment of people, particularly women and children. Dr Syed Hassan Shoaib, programme advisor training and Dr Gul Rashida, FALAH’s senior director training, also spoke on the occasion.
The workshop will continue for three days. Senior faculty members of public-sector medical colleges affiliated with UHS are attending the workshop.