Islam and family planning: Changing perceptions of health care providers and medical faculty in Pakistan

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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A USAID-sponsored family planning project called ''FALAH'' (Family Advancement for Life and Health), implemented in 20 districts of Pakistan, aimed to lower unmet need for family planning by improving access to services. To enhance the quality of care offered by the public health system, the FALAH project trained 10,534 facility-based health care providers, managers, and medical college faculty members to offer client-centered family planning services, which included a module to explain the Islamic viewpoint on family planning developed through an iterative process involving religious scholars and public health experts. At the end of the FALAH project, we conducted a situation analysis of health facilities including interviews with providers to measure family planning knowledge of trained and untrained providers; interviewed faculty to obtain their feedback about the training module; and measured changes in women's contraceptive use through baseline and endline surveys. Trained providers had a better understanding of family planning concepts than untrained providers. In addition, discussions with trained providers indicated that the training module on Islam and family planning helped them to become advocates for family planning. Faculty indicated that the module enhanced their confidence about the topic of family planning and Islam, making it easier to introduce and discuss the issue with their students. Over the 3.5-year project period, which included several components in addition to the training activity, we found an overall increase of 9 percentage points in contraceptive prevalence in the project implementation districts—from 29% to 38%. The Islam and family planning module has now been included in the teaching program of major public-sector medical universities and the Regional Training Institutes of the Population Welfare Department. Other countries with sizeable Muslim populations and low contraceptive prevalence could benefit from this module.