The story of India in the 21st century has been one of extraordinary growth and innovation. We have revolutionized the data and information industry, and we produce medicine cheaper than anywhere in the world. We eliminated polio under incredibly challenging circumstances. But India has not even come close to reaching her full potential, because we have only leveraged half of our resources into that effort. We’ve yet to unlock much of the potential of the other half: India’s women.
Only when India’s women are on an equal footing with India’s men will we be the nation we want to become. The government has already taken significant steps to provide health and development to women.
In India, though maternal and infant mortality have dropped precipitously in recent years, 200 women still die every day in child birth. Part of the problem is that not all pregnant women have easy access to the best ante-natal care. The Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan, which was launched late last year, guarantees every woman in her second or third trimester free ante-natal care by private doctors at designated hospitals all over the country on the 9th of every month.
More than 50 lakh women have been given quality ante-natal checkups under this scheme. More than 56 lakh pregnant women have been immunised under Mission Indradhanush and the MAA campaign, through awareness and counselling, continues to promote better health and nutrition to mothers and children at community level.
Family planning is one of the most critical and long standing health programmes in India. Here too India has made impressive progress, with the fertility rate dropping from 2.7 to 2.1 over the last decade. But even today 31 million married women are not using any contraception at all; about two thirds of the rest are using sterilisation, which is effective but doesn’t help women delay their first pregnancy or space their later children at healthy intervals.
As a result, too many women are either having more children than they want, having children sooner than they want, or not leaving enough time between children for their bodies to recover fully from pregnancy. Realising this massive gap, the government has introduced three new contraceptive methods into the health system, including injectables and a once-a-week pill, so that more and more women will be able to plan their families.
Among those women who do get pregnant, almost half are between the ages of 15 and 25, so we’re also starting an intense awareness campaign aimed at this age group to make sure that they know the contraceptive options and feel empowered to exercise them. A complementary campaign will target men, since contraception isn’t always a choice a woman can make on her own. The better men understand family planning, the more supportive they’re likely to be when it comes to planning their families together with their wives.
The need for better contraception and ante-natal care is not spread evenly around the country. A quarter of India’s mothers who live in the poorest areas are twice as likely to see their babies die than the rest. That is why we launched Mission Parivar Vikas on World Population Day on Tuesday, doubling down our efforts in 145 districts in 7 states – districts responsible for half of the country’s infant deaths – for intensive improvement in family planning and ante-natal care services.
As part of this Mission we want to ensure that supplies are available at all facilities at all times for which we are developing a robust Family Planning Logistics Management Information System. This is a web and mobile based decision-making tool to monitor and manage the flow of contraceptive supplies – to reduce inventory fluctuations – and improve the programme’s effectiveness at all public health facilities.
We estimate that in 2017 nearly 137 million women in India are using modern method of contraception. As a result of this usage, 39 million unintended pregnancies will be prevented; nearly 12 million unsafe abortions, 16 million total births and 43,000 maternal deaths will be averted. We firmly believe that family planning is critical for our nation’s economic development, and is a big first step towards growth, equality and sustainable development that opens the door to opportunity and prosperity for women and families.