World Contraception Day (WCD) falls on September 26 every year. The annual worldwide campaign centers on a vision of a world where every pregnancy is wanted.
The mission for the day is to improve awareness of all contraceptive methods available and enable women as well as young people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health.
While family planning reduces the number of unintended pregnancies to save women from high risk pregnancies and unsafe abortions, investing in family planning as a component of good sexual and reproductive health has benefits that go beyond the obvious prevention of pregnancy and reduction of disease burden. Family planning does more than saving lives. It also has huge social and economic benefits for global development goals which should not be overlooked.
There are also large savings to the health system when investment is made in the provision of family planning services, reducing the burden of pregnancy related costs. Additionally, the longer a woman waits to have children, the longer she can participate in the paid labour force, thereby boosting the economic health and prosperity of poor communities. Simply put, a huge investment into family planning programmes has the potential to consign poverty to history.
Despite the many advantages associated with family planning services, many countries continue to underfund this vital portion of healthcare systems.
For most women, particularly those who are poor, free services offered by the government as well as development partners are often the only option for safe and effective family planning solutions. It has been estimated that about half of the total demand for contraception in Malawi remains unmet and consequently a good number of pregnancies are unwanted. The women who face economic barriers in accessing family planning methods often turn to unsafe and ineffective forms of pregnancy prevention out of desperation.
Such barriers complicate access to family planning services and the benefits that come with it resulting in other challenges such as overpopulation, unintended pregnancies, and unsafe abortions. It must also be noted that limited funding on family planning affects young people most because the society expects them to abstain, hence, deny them access to safe sexual practices. It is estimated that 47 percent of pregnant young girls are married before the age of 18 and teenage pregnancy rate, which currently is at 29 percent, keeps rising. Further than this 22 percent of girls aged between 15 and 19 have an unmet need for family planning and fail to finish their education. This is despite the fact that 70 percent of the population of Malawi is young people.
Consequently, the lack of adequate investment into the provision of safe, effective, and modern family planning services leads to high population growth and exerts more pressure on the already limited social service institutions such as schools and hospitals. The quality of education and the standard of healthcare provided in public schools and hospitals leave a lot to be desired due to an ever increasing demand against the meagre resources available. This would have been the opposite if as a country we had invested a lot in family planning as a lot of unintended pregnancies would have been prevented.
The ability to decide when or whether to have children is not only a basic human right. It is also the key to economic empowerment, especially for poor women. But in many developing countries including Malawi, this right is being undermined by lack of access to safe, effective, and modern forms of contraception.
Family planning is a good investment which enables women to bear children at the healthiest times of their lives, when they are psychologically, physically, emotionally and economically ready for a pregnancy. It enables young people to complete their education. It saves governments money and helps entire communities and nations thrive.