A sex worker blows a condom inside a tram car during an AIDS awareness programme in Kolkata. Despite greater access to knowledge, fewer people are accessing contraceptives, by choice or for factors that still require research, an analysis of government data over reveals.
In 10 of 14 states surveyed, use of any modern method of family planning, among women of child-bearing age (15 to 49), decreased 6% over ten years, despite a greater awareness of birth-control methods and an improvement in family planning services, according to our comparison of National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data from 2005-06 and 2015-16.
The largest decrease in the use of "modern methods" of contraception was 12%, reported from Goa; Assam reported the largest increase, 10%.
Modern methods include: female and male sterilisation, the contraceptive pill, intra-uterine device (IUD), post-partum IUD (PPIUD, used after childbirth), injectables, male and female condoms, and emergency contraception.
Seven of 14 states reported increased use of condoms, the largest increase (2%) in West Bengal, the greatest decline (3%) in Manipur.
Six of 14 states reported more people using IUDs, the greatest increase in Sikkim (3%), the largest decline in Karnataka (2%).
No more than four of 14 states show any increase in the use of contraceptive pills, with Assam reporting 12% more users, and Goa and Sikkim reporting 1% drops.
The analysis of the most recent data from the NFHS-4 of 2015-16 is currently underway. The study of 14 states has been conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) with government approval.
Modern methods are slipping out of use
Of the states currently surveyed, half reported more people using condoms, the other half reported a decline.
This might be a case of the preferred method not being available, as some Front Line Services--accredited social health activists (ASHA), medical stores, and primary health centres (PHC)--may not have more than one or two government-promoted brands, particularly in rural areas, public-health consultant Kumar Das told IndiaSpend. ‘These available methods, maybe, are not that interesting or not that pleasurable," he said.
Most states saw a decrease in the use of the contraceptive pill and the IUD/PPIUD, which is a small device inserted directly into the uterus--one of the most effective, long-lasting, reversible birth controls.
Eight of 14 states reported fewer people choosing the IUD/PPIUD. The percentage of women found to use an IUD/PPIUD was low in all states--below 1% in several cases.
Eight of 14 states also reported fewer people using the contraceptive pill than in 2005-06. Ten of 14 states reported 4% or fewer using the pill.
There are widely held beliefs that IUD/PPIUD and the contraceptive pill can negatively affect a woman’s health or even cause sterility.
Contraceptives are available, but men make the decisions
The Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) is the percentage of women aged 15 to 49 who are using, or whose partners are using, contraceptives at that point in time. If the CPR is high, Das said, it means that contraceptives are available, but the number of people using modern methods is low.
One of the main issues is access to the preferred methods, Das argued, especially in rural areas, where reaching medical stores or health workers is, sometimes, difficult. Limited supplies may limit options.
Women tend not to go to medical stores to collect contraceptives; these decisions are mostly made by men.
If a woman wants to wait at least two years for her next birth or wants no more children, but is not using any method of contraception, she is said to have an 'unmet need'. If a woman just wants to wait at least two years, then she has an unmet need for spacing.
The current data on unmet need is incomplete because it only considers the needs of married women.
Six of 14 states reported an increase in unmet need. In Madhya Pradesh, the percentage of those surveyed who have unmet need has remained the same since 2005-06. Manipur reported the largest increase (15%).
Seven of 14 states have shown a decrease in total unmet need since 2005-06--the decrease, as we said, indicating positive developments. The largest decrease was in Meghalaya (15%).
In 13 of 14 states, there is an increased unmet need for spacing. Again, the largest increase was in Manipur (8%), and the greatest decrease in Meghalaya (17%).
Regardless of increase or decrease, the numbers are still relatively low. Fewer than 10% of those surveyed in 12 of 14 states reported they had an unmet need for spacing. One reason could be that people want to have big families, and women do not want to space out their pregnancies, conceivably unaware of the health risks.
Particularly in rural areas, Das said, people consider three or four children the minimum. But, again, only the man goes to the store. If a man wants another child straight away, the woman may not; but she may not have a choice.
Quality of family planning services improves
The data overwhelmingly indicate that the quality of family planning services has improved in the last decade.
All 14 states saw an increase in the number of women not using any kind of contraception who have been talked to by a health worker about family planning; 25% more have had consultation in Goa, the largest increase.
As many as 13 of 14 states reported an increase in the number of women--currently using some kind of contraception--who have now been told about the side effects of family planning methods. The largest increase, 38%, was again in Goa. The only decrease was 8% in Madhya Pradesh.
Despite the greater access to knowledge, fewer people are accessing contraceptives, by choice or for factors that still require research.
(Moloney is a multimedia journalist and has a BA (Hons) degree from the University of Birmingham, UK.)
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