Contraceptives: Govt should increase its stock

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Since independence, all governments have prioritised birth control programmes, and Bangladesh has been more successful in this regard than India and Pakistan.

Different international agencies, including the United Nations, have also recognised the success. However, it has recently been learnt that the policy makers in the government are not putting sufficient importance to contraceptives. They are contemplating viewing the population as a resource and aiming to reap dividends.

The increased population will turn into human resources only when the basic needs – quality food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare – are ensured to every citizen. It is undeniable that the socio-economic structure in Bangladesh still has a long way to go to reach this position. Therefore, there is no alternative to gearing up the population control programme.

There is no need to provide contraceptives to the affluent and people who are aware of birth control. They can purchase this service from private sectors. But it is important to extend the service to the poor and low-income group free of cost.

The report carried by Prothom Alo on 2 February is really concerning. It reported a shortage of free contraceptives at the field level. Some upazilas do not have implanon (a type of contraceptive), while some do not have injections.

Besides, the stock of condoms is running out at the field level. Citing the Directorate General of Family Planning, the report noted that the current stock of birth control pills is expected to finish within the next five months.

According to government records, 37 per cent of the eligible couples (of reproductive age) receive contraceptives from the government sector and 3 per cent from NGOs. The remaining 60 per cent avail this from the private sector.

Field workers of the family planning directorate deliver birth control contraceptives to eligible couples free of cost. These contraceptives can be collected from government centres too. These contraceptives include Implanon, condoms, oral birth control pills, emergency contraceptive pills (ECP), IUD, injections and implants. These contraceptives are provided from the family planning directorate and the health ministry.

If the contraceptives run out of stock in the field level, the people will not receive the service. Thus, the birth control programme will get disrupted. But the officials concerned do not seem to be concerned about this.

They often remain absent from their offices. Even if they are in the office, they do not talk with journalists about the issue, rather try to avoid them on various pretexts.

While talking to Prothom Alo, Mohammad Mainul Islam, Professor of Population Sciences Department of Dhaka University, talked about the risks of not providing free contraceptives.

He pointed out that if there is a shortage of contraceptives, lower-income individuals are forced to turn to the private sector, potentially decreasing overall contraceptive use.

According to experts, the rate of latent demand or unmet need is now 10 per cent. The government talks about bringing the rate to zero, but it is quite impossible with the disruption in supply and stock. Therefore, it is an urgent need to address the shortages in the concerned upazilas and districts.

We hope that government policymakers and officials will prioritise population control efforts, albeit belatedly, and take proactive measures to prevent the programme from failing.