MIRPUR (AJK)    -   A ceremony was held to launch an innovative model for improving access to family planning services for marginalized women.

“Improving access to quality family planning services and accelerating efforts to ensure balanced population growth is critical to taking Pakistan forward and achieving the goals of development,” said Dr. Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection, and Chairperson Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) at the launch ceremony. The pilot intervention is an innovative model to extend access to family planning service to the BISP beneficiaries and is being jointly implemented by BISP, the Population Council and Punjab Population Innovation Fund (PPIF) in Rahim Yar Khan district of Punjab province.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Nishtar reiterated Government’s vision of ensuring universal access to family planning for sustainable growth and poverty alleviation and hoped the evidence generated from this innovative pilot would help in ensuring better health outcomes for poorest women and their children. “The EhsaasProgramme realizes the importance of provision of quality and affordable family planning services to its beneficiaries which signifies the importance that the Government attaches to the welfare of the under privileged and marginalized segments of the population,” she added.

Citing trends in reproductive health services for women of reproductive age in Pakistan, Dr. Zeba Sathar, Country DirectorPopulation Council said, “The highest unmet need for contraceptives in Pakistan is among the low-income women.”It is not just the lack of family planning services but also the lack of access to these services that hinders women to act on their fertility intentions. Investing more in contraceptive care, especially within the public health system, will produce a much-needed boost in meeting both family planning and maternal health goal and will support the 2018 Council of Common Interests recommendations on family planning, she added.

Speaking at the occasion, Dr Ijaz Nabi, Chairman, Punjab Population Innovation Fund (PPIF), said that the Government of Punjab has established PPIF as a technical hub to pilot innovative, scalable and sustainable family planning interventions such as this initiative in district Rahim Yar Khan. PPIF with independent board of directors and a flexible programmatic and organizational structure specializes in designing and piloting interventions that can supplement public sector programming for improving family planning information and services.

Explaining the design of the pilot intervention, Dr. Ali Mir, Director Programs at the Population Council said that the intervention will mitigate cost and information related barriers by financing the uptake of family planning services for 20,000 BISP beneficiaries – married women of reproductive age. It will also create community-based information channels for an additional 60,000 BISP beneficiaries through BISP Beneficiaries Committees, BISP Mother Ambassadors and Lady Health Workers. The intervention will have a digitized voucher management system based on a mobile application for verification and disbursement of funds to beneficiaries and service providers. The vouchers will be usedeither at the government facilities where family planning services are already being provided for free, or the private sector providers.

Mr. Jawad Ahmed Qureshi, CEO, Punjab Population Innovation Fund (PPIF) said the pilot model will facilitate low-income married women of reproductive age in district Rahim Yar Khan through a voucher scheme to avail free family planning services. Transportation cost will also be reimbursed to these women, thereby eliminating the financial barriers for poor women in uptake of family planning services.

He hoped that the successful implementation of this pilot would pave the way for scaling up this model throughout Punjab.

Ms. Lina Mousa, UNFPA Country Representative to Pakistan, reaffirmed UNFPA’s support to work with the government of Pakistan in ensuring that that high-quality services and information are made accessible to all the couples to decide the number and spacing between their children. She also highlighted the greater need for empowering women by providing them better opportunities at health and education. UNFPA is supporting the design and evaluation ofthis pilot model through the Population Council.

Colonel (retired) Hashim Dogar, Minister for Population Welfare, Punjab stressed that the Population Welfare department lays great emphasis on providing quality family planning services through its service delivery network and is striving hard to make reproductive health and family planning services available to every household in Punjab province. He mentioned that the government has allocated more funds for population welfare in the budget this year.

The launch ceremony was well-attended by members of national and provincial assemblies, members from population welfare and health departments, federal and provincial ministries, public officials, UN agencies, health practitioners, donors, academia, civil society and the media. Ends.