Saving Maternal Lives: Asking Accountability of Public Sector Family Planning Programs

29th January 2014

Spotlighting Health: Experts Demand Immediate Steps, Greater Accountability 

  By Sehrish Wasif 

  Published: January 29, 2014 ISLAMABAD:  A Pakistan in which mothers do not die needlessly and children live to become productive members of society needs concrete and sustainable steps to be taken now.

This demand was made by health experts at a discussion on “Policy and Action Grant Initiative on Maternal-Child Health Outcomes,” held on Tuesday at a local hotel. It was organised by Research and Development Solutions (RADS). Participants said the first step would be to improve accountability by shifting focus to public sector performance, efficient use of resources, and a unified political agenda to routinely measure the progress of donor and government-funded investments.

 They were of the view that Pakistan is unable to improve its health indicators because the government has neglected to improve the deplorable health condition at the primary level due to which women and children die every day. Dr Samia Rizwan from Unicef said if political leaders go on field visits to rural areas they would see how a woman risks her life while giving birth in the absence of a healthcare infrastructure. Quoting an example of a woman in Sindh who aborted seven children, she said it was because of the absence of skilled healthcare providers.

Dr Adnan Khan from RADS said that in Pakistan despite millions of dollars in government and donor investments the overall increase in contraceptives use is less than 1% per year. The government spends approximately Rs2,600 per couple per year but the analysis of the last five years shows a static trend for almost every contraceptive method with many facilities and services remaining underutilised by communities, he added. “Family planning messages must be de-linked from religion.” Jonathan Ross, director health at USAID said before the general elections, political parties talk about improving the health sector in their manifestoes, but after coming to power the plans never materialise.” But currently the real challenge is to scale up progress, particularly focusing on family planning and reproductive health components, he added. “Pakistan has a long way to go all it lacks is the political commitment and accountability at every level,” he said, referring to health indicators reveled in the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2012-13.

Rabbi Royan, country representative of UNFPA said there is a need for capacity building and the government needs to monitor itself and be accountable at every level.
“The private sector is playing a critical role and we should understand how it can work synergistically with what we are trying to accomplish. “The family planning programme is well-targeted but it’s stagnant for the past few decades. However, the devolution of the Ministry of Health offers an opportunity to change the status quo.” Department for International Development (DFID) Health Team Leader Christopher Athayde said that DFID is committed to supporting Pakistan achieves its family planning 2020 objectives. “Its support to Pakistan will bring family planning services to 1 million new couples and aim at preventing 4,000 maternal deaths.” Dr Ayesha Khan from RADS said. “Accountability is mandatory, otherwise maternal deaths will continue despite large investments.”