Our Hon’ Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in his Independence Day address on the occasion of 73rd Independence Day spoke about the importance of a small family and brought the focus back on the subject which requires immediate attention more than ever before. Though the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has been advocating it for many years now with limited success. India was one of the first countries to have a population control policy and in more recent years the conversation has moved from family planning to reproductive choices.
It is a proven fact that the doorway to reproductive health is awareness about and access to contraception. And this is precisely the gap that SAM bridges with its Population Stabilization Program. The program was started in 2013 and is operational in 360-gram panchayats of 12 blocks in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. Given the success of the program, SAM scaled up operations in 121 revenue villages of Jarwal block of Bahraich district this year, which has a population of over 218,000. Population Foundation India has supported the program as a partner.
A core reason of many women not been able to take control of their reproductive choices in the past has been their lack of awareness of the key information they needed to make these decisions and limited access to these devices. We must remind ourselves Health is an individual and community responsibility; ownership of this responsibility promotes health and empowers a community to demand healthcare rights. This is where the human networks in the village that have been created by SAM have been able to substantially improve demand for health services.
Over the years we have documented this change and found that as a result of our efforts, contraceptive acceptance has gone up to 62% from baseline of 29% (in 2018) and reduced unmet need from 10.8% to 2.2 % (in 2016) in the communities that we work in. The numerous Depot Holders, trained by SAM, make contraceptive methods accessible to the women of the community along with imparting knowledge about basket of choices available. As these Depot Holders are themselves women from the community, women feel comfortable to approach them with questions and requirements without their privacy getting compromised. Moreover, oral contraceptive pills and condoms are sold at low costs so that families do not have to deal with the financial burden of using contraceptives.
The familiarity and confidence that the Depot Holders bring to the community has a lot to do with the improvement in contraceptive acceptance in these areas. When a woman speaks to another woman who belong to a similar milieu, they are more likely to form a bond of trust. This is the basic idea of the Depot Holders. The Depot Holders, in turn, are able to advise women about contraceptives with a deep understanding of their background and circumstances.
As Total Fertility Rates drops in SAM areas, substantial credit goes to the women who are now taking control of their reproductive health. But we must also remember to tip out hats to the many volunteers and frontline health workers who make sure that this change actually takes place. Their endless efforts have borne fruits of success. As SAM’s Population Stabilization Program goes from strength to strength, we take this time to celebrate the women at the core of the program who continue to make this program a success.