New finance bill and population planning

The news that the supplementary finance bill proposes removal of tax exemption/subsidy on contraceptives is very concerning

Considering that there is now a broad consensus in the country regarding the urgent need to lower our population growth rate to improve the wellbeing of our people and enhancing our development prospects, this decision seems ill-timed and counterproductive

As the fifth most populous country in the world, with the fastest growing population growth rate in the region, Pakistan is lagging behind almost all countries in the neighborhood, except Afghanistan, in terms of improving its health and socio-economic indicators

A large proportion of our mothers are anemic and dying because of closely spaced and repeated pregnancies

We are importing food to feed our people while the per-capita water availability is also diminishing

A high proportion of our children are malnourished

We do not have the resources to provide the infrastructure to educate the increasing number of children being added to our population

Nearly 17 per cent of married women of reproductive age in Pakistan want to adopt family planning but are unable to do so

Consequently, out of 9 million pregnancies annually, 4 million are unintended

This unmet need is higher among poor rural families who experience a higher proportion of unwanted pregnancies and have larger households

Among the many reasons contributing to the high unmet need; affordability of and accessibility to family planning services are identified as major barriers

Currently 53 per cent of couples who are practising family planning, obtain contraceptives from pharmacies, shops and the private medical sector

They will be the ones most directly affected by this new tax

Public sector procurement will also become dearer

Compared to men, lack of family planning services disproportionately affects women

By undergoing repeated pregnancies and by the burden of nurturing their families, their health and wellbeing is more adversely affected

Denying family planning services by making contraceptives less affordable has serious gender and human rights implications

Globally, food and medical supplies are tax exempt

Contraceptives are included as public health goods and considered a social utility

The US Food and Drug administration recognises them as medical devices and in Pakistan too, they have been included in the essential drugs list

Many countries including developed nations, realising the importance of contraception in promoting health, offer tax relief on contraceptive products with the aim of improving the well-being of their people

Tax exemptions are offered to make contraceptives affordable and enlarge the supply chain

In some country’s taxes levied on luxury items are specifically diverted for subsidising family planning products

Taking notice of the alarming population growth rate, borne out by the results of the 2017 census, the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan took suo motu notice and constituted a group of experts to develop a plan of action to bring down our population growth rate to sustainable levels by 2030

The plan was endorsed by the Council of Common Interests in 2018

Contraceptive security is included among the eight strategies for achieving the planned goals

Taxing contraceptives will undoubtedly jeopardise the implementation of the CCI plan of action

Since contraceptives are an essential medical commodity, they should not be equated and taxed with items that are not considered necessities of life or luxury goods

The wellbeing, safety and security of our people depend upon lowering our population growth rate

Let us make the lives of our people easier and healthier by helping them to balance their household size with the resources available to them

Family planning services must remain affordable and accessible — it is a human rights imperative

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2022

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Date:09-Jan-2022 Reference:View Original Link