In Myanmar, family planning empowers women to take charge of their health, futures
- 26 October 2016
YANGON, Myanmar – As Moe Moe Khaing, 30, listened to her doctor discuss family planning, she automatically reflected on the pressures building at home: Rent had been due a week ago, and her 3-year-old son had been sick for three straight days. Her 10-year-old daughter needed new clothes, but they could not rely on her husband’s earnings as a casual labourer. An unplanned pregnancy was the last thing she could manage.
She made up her mind, she announced to the doctor. She wanted a contraceptive implant – a long-acting reversible contraceptive.
Not long ago, women in Moe Moe Khaing’s shoes had fewer options. Family planning was a taboo subject, and contraceptives were not widely available.
Even today, many women cannot access the modern contraceptives they need to avoid or delay pregnancy. “The current situation in the country shows that nearly 1.8 million women of reproductive age… do not have access to modern contraceptive methods,” said Daw Hla Hla Aye, UNFPA’s assistant representative in Myanmar. “It affects them and many aspects of their family lives.”
Without family planning, many women in Myamar have surprisingly high fertility rates. While the national average is just over two children per woman, newly analyzed figures from the 2014 census reveal that fertility rates among married women are much higher – five children per woman. Married women in Chin State have nine children on average, the analysis shows.
And lack of access to family planning contributes to the country’s high maternal death rate. According to the most recent UN figures, out of every 100,000 live births, some 178 women die of pregnancy-related causes – much higher than the regional figure of 128 deaths per 100,000 live births. Other estimates, from the 2014 census, indicate this figure could be as high as 282 deaths per 100,000 live births.
But family planning is helping women like Moe Moe Khaing take charge of their health and futures. The implant “is easy, and effective as well. That is why I choose it,” she said. The version she selected will provide five years of contraception. It can be removed at any time.
UNFPA is working to increase the contraceptive options available in Myanmar, so women can choose the method best suited to their circumstances. Earlier this year, UNFPA began partnering with the health ministry and civil society partners to provide the contraceptive implant, free of charge, to low-income women.
“We will only provide implant services in hospitals where doctors are trained to an international standard,” said Daw Hla Mya Thway Eindra, a senior official from the health ministry.
Last year, UNFPA Supplies – the world's largest provider of donated contraceptives – spent nearly $2.8 million on contraceptives and maternal health medicines in the country.
UNFPA is also helping to improve the contraceptive supply chain, and is training midwives and other health professionals to offer family planning counselling and services.
For 36-year-old Ma Theint Theint Tin, a casual labourer on the outskirts of Yangon, these services offer much more than health care – they offer peace of mind.
Money is tight for her family of five, and she does not want to risk an unplanned pregnancy.
“I have been looking forward to this moment,” she told UNFPA, as she prepared to receive a contraceptive implant. “My husband is completely supportive of the initiative. It will remove anxiety and uncertainty between us.”
She added she plans to spread the word about the benefits of family planning. “I will share the information with other women in my neighbourhood in a similar situation,” she said.
“Now,” she emphasized, “I can concentrate on my work and family.”
– Si Thu Soe Moe