Getting the word out: Ipas and government of India join forces in education initiative

Thursday, October 18, 2012

India Education Poster

Challenged by a maternal death rate that claims the life of a woman every 10 minutes—and with many of those deaths the result of unsafe abortion—the government of India is launching a nationwide campaign to reach women with information about the availability of safe, legal abortion services.

Leaflets, posters, flipbooks and other materials highlighting the facts about India’s abortion law and where women can obtain safe, legal abortion care will be printed and distributed across India by state governments. One of the campaign materials is, for example, a brightly colored poster featuring a drawing of a female health provider and the heading “Unwanted Pregnancy? Don’t Panic!” It lets women know that abortion up to 20 weeks gestation is legal under certain circumstances and emphasizes that, “the earlier the abortion, the more simple, safe and easily available.”

The education initiative grows out of community outreach work that Ipas India has done for several years in Maharashtra and other states. While abortion has been legal in India since 1971, more than half of the abortions performed each year are unsafe and occur outside health facilities. A contributing factor, says Vinoj Manning, director of Ipas India, is that “women and their communities are not knowledgeable about the law and don’t know that safe services are available.”

As the Population Council noted in a 2011 report on access to abortion services in rural Maharashtra, abortion-related educational materials were scarce in health facilities. While most primary health centers and rural hospitals had information on child health, HIV/AIDS and family planning, they were less likely to have abortion-related information available—and much of the abortion-related material was focused on the illegality of prenatal sex determination.

To combat the lack of awareness about safe and legal abortion care, Ipas India has developed posters, leaflets, booklets and other materials to use in community outreach efforts. The materials were designed with an eye toward reaching women and others in their communities, including people with low literacy levels and those living in areas with little or no access to radio and television.

Over the past two years, Ipas India has reached 550,000 women with these materials. Post-campaign research indicates that the materials have been effective in increasing women’s knowledge about the health risks of unsafe abortion and the availability of safe, legal services.

Earlier this year, the government of India convened an expert group including representatives from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, state governments, and private practitioners to review the Ipas materials. Following that meeting, Ipas was asked to assist with adapting the materials for national distribution. The national government is now in the process of getting the new materials printed and ready for distribution by state governments.

“We’re optimistic that this initiative will greatly increase community awareness about comprehensive abortion care and the legality of using safe services,” Manning says. “We have been working with the national government and several state governments to increase the availability of services in the public sector, and we are hopeful this will complement our efforts.”