Supportive Family Planning Policies

Supportive policies ensure that family planning programs have a prominent place on the national agenda with adequate financial resources.

Family planning programs need high-level support to operate successfully. Supportive policies, statutes, and regulations, at national and operational levels, lay the groundwork for family planning service delivery.

  • National policies often describe what should be done.
  • Operational policies often explain how it should be done and establish systems for delivering services.
  • Advocacy efforts with a focus on the benefits of family planning can build political will, support, and commitment.

National Policies: Supportive national policies provide vision, framework, and financial support. National policies can ensure that family planning has a prominent place on the national agenda and that services receive adequate public resources. Supportive national policies help programs succeed by:

  • Establishing favorable laws and regulations. National policies often control the approval and regulation of contraceptives, their promotion in the mass media, their sales and distribution or delivery of services, who can receive services, and health insurance coverage.
  • Assuring availability of contraceptive supplies. Supportive laws, regulations, duties, and taxes can facilitate the importation of contraceptive supplies or support local manufacturing. Including contraceptives on a country’s list of national essential medicines can guide the procurement and supply of contraceptives in the public sector.
  • Providing money. Policies at the national level determine the amount of government financial resources that go to family planning services. A dedicated line item for family planning in a country’s budget is not necessary, but it encourages ongoing government support. In a 2007 survey, family planning professionals most frequently identified adequate budget as one of the most difficult elements for family planning programs to achieve.

Operational Policies: Also known as “service delivery” policies, operational policies are the link between national policy and service delivery performance. Supportive operational policies enable programs to provide services successfully by:

  • Establishing constructive regulations, codes, guidelines, plans, budgets, and procedures for programs and services. For example: Who can give injectable contraceptives apart from doctors and nurses? Is a physician’s prescription needed for oral contraceptives?
  • Supporting decentralized systems, in which local administrators set and carry out operational policies. Decentralized systems often improve access to family planning services because they can respond better to local needs. With the help of new supportive policies that removed unnecessary medical policy and practice barriers to contraceptive use, use of modern contraception among married women of reproductive age in Zambia rose from 9% in 1992 to 23% in 2002. (See Population Reports. Elements of Success in Family Planning Programming, September 2008, p. 6.)

Advocacy Efforts: Successful advocacy requires identifying decision-makers and stakeholders, knowing how to reach them, and appealing to their specific interests. By widely promoting the benefits of family planning, advocacy programs can build political will, support, and commitment to high-quality family planning service delivery by:

  • Identifying and encouraging family planning “champions” to mobilize support for family planning. These advocates can bring key issues to the attention of policy makers, define needs for policy changes, and work toward supportive policies. For example, to address low levels of contraceptive use in Malawi in the early 1990s, a group of family planning champions advocated posting a family planning coordinator in each district. The policy change has contributed to the nearly universal availability of contraception in Malawi. (See Population Reports, Elements of Success in Family Planning Programming, September 2008, p. 6)
  • Involving all stakeholders in policy and program development. Programs need support not only from clients but also from the general public, health officials, policy makers, funding agencies, the news media, health care providers’ professional  associations, women’s organizations, and religious, community, and business leaders.
  • Drawing upon data and case studies to back up key messages. Decision-makers are more likely to endorse a policy when convinced that it is high priority, that many people will benefit, and that the costs do not exceed the benefits. Factual evidence—from surveys, studies, and expert analyses, for example—can show policy makers the benefits of investing in family planning . Stories can show how family planning improves people’s lives or how its lack can lead to tragedy. Family planning providers who deal with clients every day are in a good position to find these stories.