By The Society For Media Advocacy On Health, Nigeria.
The numerous barriers which made high-quality family planning services inaccessible to many Nigerian women are deepening amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, as the country inches to reach its new Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) target by 2024.
The barriers include socio-cultural factors which are widespread across the country, but more prevalent in the North West and North-East regions of the country, where the ideal number of children still stands at six.
As the spread of COVID-19 worsens, developed countries with first-class healthcare systems are forced to reconstruct medical services to virtual care, to continue to meet their healthcare demands, including family planning.
Despite this measure, health facilities in these countries appear overstretched as they are trying to keep up with the steady flock of patients requiring surgeries, births, and various primary healthcare services.
To manage this new constraint, temporary measures like makeshift health, facilities have been set up to handle the increased demand for patients seeking primary healthcare services such as family planning.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of sub-Saharan African countries like Nigeria which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) bears the greatest burden of disease worldwide.
Research has shown that there is a link between disease and poverty, which is obviously true as Sub-Saharan Africa hosts some of the poorest countries in the world. This combination of poverty and disease burden, in addition to challenges with the health system, has not served sub-Saharan African countries well during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indeed, the last year’s lockdown measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19 further put a strain on Nigeria’s health system with dire implications for healthcare service delivery and access.
In view of these and other challenges, Nigeria’s unmet needs for modern contraceptive (MW) remains at 13 percent, according to the recent Family Planning 2020 (Track2020) survey. The survey further shows that the country’s satisfied demand for contraceptives is only 35 percent, while the current average annual growth stands at only 0.4 percent.
In 2012, the Federal Government committed to achieving a target of 36 percent Contraceptive Prevalence Rate by 2018. Despite the 2017 revision of this target downwards to 27 percent by 2023, Nigeria’s latest National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) estimates show a CPR of 17 percent among married women and 14 percent among all women which is still a far cry from the target.
This is because there are regional variations. The NDHS survey shows that only seven percent of married women in the north-west region use any family planning method, compared with 28 percent and 35 percent in the south-east and South-west zones respectively.
These estimates have only marginally increased from those of the 2013 report of the same survey; and, three years on, there are clear indications that Nigeria didn’t achieve the 2017 revised target.
It is noteworthy that the Federal Government recently reiterated its commitment to the issues of population management, describing it as a critical component in national development.
Circumstances under which family planning techniques are not employed at sufficient levels result in numerous health and social problems.
Encouragement for the use of family planning methods in countries with high birth rates has the potential to reduce poverty and hunger and to prevent 32 percent of maternal deaths and approximately 10 percent of child deaths.
However, approximately 225 million women worldwide wishing to avoid pregnancy are unable to benefit from safe and effective family planning methods for reasons such as the inability to access reproductive health services.
The Federal Government also said it would focus on supporting scientifically proven family planning, aimed at increasing contraceptive use to moderate the present fertility rate. Nigeria’s total fertility rate is 5.5 percent according to the 2018 NDHS.
Yet, Nigeria has expressed fresh optimism that the country would achieve the 27 percent CPR by 2024 through the support of donors.
For this to happen, it is expected that all stakeholders must work in synergy in achieving improved family health for all homes, especially women and girls using family planning.
Also, there is a critical need for self-services for family planning during emergencies as COVID-19 to curb unmet needs for modern contraceptives.
This is crucial to achieving zero preventable maternal deaths and zero unmet needs for family planning through continuous advocacy if Nigeria must achieve the 27 percent CPR target by 2024.