CHENNAI: Using its typical fuzzy logic, the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has decreed that condom ads on TV should be aired only between 10 pm and 6 am. The move is meant to limit the messaging to adults and keep it out of the earshot of children.
How valid is this logic in a country in which half the pregnancies are said to be unwanted? How valid is this restriction in a country in which condoms are used by a mere 5.6 per cent of the people?
Seen against the context of those facts, the I&B Ministry’s move boggles the mind. It indicates that on matters relating to sex and contraceptive technologies India continues to be a denialist with an ostrich’s attitude to facts.
Take for instance data on abortions and unintended pregnancies. The government estimates that there are a mere 0.7 million incidents of abortion and unintended pregnancies. But a study published in the journal Lancet Global Health found that there were a staggering 15.6 million such events in 2015.
About 80 per cent -- 12.7 million -- of the abortions took place at home with the aid of oral medication accessed from chemists and informal vendors. Some 14 per cent (2.2 million) were performed surgically in clinics and other health facilities. And 5 per cent (7.8 lakh) were conducted using other unsafe methods.
According to Lancet Global Health, the researchers used two methods to measure incidence of abortion in India. One was by compiling the nation-wide sale numbers of abortion pills from IMS Health, a firm that publishes international pharmaceutical sales data. The second method was by conducting a large-scale survey of public and private health facilities in six states — Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
The findings of the study revealed some startling truths that ought to spur India’s policymakers to intensify condom messaging rather curbing it. The study revealed for instance that that women seeking abortions often resort to self-medication by using abortion pills that are available over the counter without a prescription from a healthcare provider.
“Women in India face considerable challenges trying to obtain abortion care, including the limited availability of abortion services in public health facilities,” says co–principal investigator of the study, Dr Susheela Singh, who is a vice president for international research at the Guttmacher Institute.
The study also revealed that only a quarter of abortions took place at state-run hospitals and clinics. Around 22 per cent (3.4 million) of the abortions were done in public health facilities as against 73 per cent (11.5 million) done outside health facilities and 0.8 million were conducted by informal providers.
“Our estimate of 3.4 million public facility-based abortions in 2015 is nearly five times the number reported to the government in 2014-15 (701,415 abortions) because we included data from public, private and nongovernment organisations,” said Chander Shekhar, co-author of the study and professor in the Department of Fertility Studies of the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai.
“Our findings suggest that a shortage of trained staff and inadequate supplies and equipment are the primary reasons many public facilities don’t provide abortion care,” Dr Susheela Singh.
The statistics on abortion from the new study underscore the need for improving access to safe abortion services, and have major policy implications, she says.
So the imperative is to ensure that awareness of condom usage must be promoted rather than restricted.