Young women need more access to family planning information so they gain more understanding of correct contraceptive use and the options available. (Vientiane Times/Vientiane Times/ANN)
VIENTIANE - Young Lao couples still lack understanding of family planning which is a cause of unwanted pregnancies through use low use of contraception, creating added stress for already struggling families.
The unmet need for family planning is high at 20 percent, and even higher - as much as 31 percent - in some ethnic groups, Minister of Health Associate Prof. Dr Bounkong Syhavong said recently when addressing Laos’ first-ever national family planning conference. The meeting was supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The adolescent birth rate is 76 live births per 1,000 girls in the 15-19 age group, Dr Bounkong said. Adolescent contraceptive use is low at 22.3 percent, and the unmet need for contraception is 22.6 percent.
On the plus side, Laos’ maternal mortality ratio fell from 357 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2012 to 206 per 100,000 live births in 2015, surpassing the Millennium Development Goal target. Dr Bounkong said this could not have been done this without family planning along with strengthened midwifery services.
But Laos still has some miles to go to reach the target of 180 deaths per 100,000 live births, in order to graduate from Least Developed Country status in 2020.
Dr Bounkong said greater access to family planning would reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies, allowing young women to attain and maintain good physical health, remain in school to strengthen the foundation for their future, and eventually decide for themselves if and when to have children.
Deputy Prime Minister Dr Sonexay Siphandone said investing in family planning contributes to the long-term prosperity of Laos under the umbrella of the 2030 Agenda.
“It can help us to achieve the aims put forth in our eighth National Socio-economic Development Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for our future,” he added.
Globally, family planning has contributed significantly to preventing maternal and child morbidity and mortality. Reducing maternal mortality is a priority under the Millennium Development Goals and remains a priority under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), with SDG 3 specifically aspiring to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages.
“Quite simply, family planning provides choice to individuals and families, helping us work towards a future where every pregnancy is wanted and every childbirth is safe,” Dr Sonexay said.
“Family planning truly empowers women, contributing to gender equality, increasing women’s autonomy within their households and improving their earning power,” Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, Dr Kikeo Chanthaboury, said.
Increasing the government’s investment in family planning commodities, including contraception, will be cost-effective on so many fronts. Spending US$1 on contraceptives can reduce the cost of pregnancy-related care by US$7, and eventually help save millions of dollars in direct healthcare costs averted.
Along with UNFPA, significant support is being provided to Laos’ family planning programme by FP2020, the global initiative funded by a range of donor governments and institutions, and hosted by the United Nations Foundation.
Under FP2020, Laos has made policy and political commitments, including the revision of the country’s Reproductive Health Policy to promote an enabling environment for family planning and develop a national information, education and communication and behaviour change communication strategy on family planning.
The government has also made programme and service delivery commitments, including the scaling up of family planning services to health centre and village levels to increase access to reproductive health and information by adolescents.
These and several other measures aim to significantly boost key indicators, including reducing the unmet need for contraception to 13 percent by 2020 and increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate - the percentage of women who are currently using, or whose partner is currently using, at least one method of contraception - from 42 percent to 65 percent by 2020.
“Ultimately, family planning must be seen in the wider context of sexual and reproductive health and rights, not only in Laos but globally,” said UNFPA Representative in Laos, Ms Frederika Meijer.
In 1994, UNFPA Member States agreed to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which recognised “the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice”.
“Today, in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals, the ICPD is more relevant than ever, and Laos is demonstrating its commitment to these principles through far-reaching policy,” Ms Meijer said.
“We offer our support to the government and the people of this fast-developing country in their crucial efforts now and in the future,” she added.