Community and Health Care Provider Perspectives on Barriers to and Enablers of Family Planning Use in Rural Sindh, Pakistan: Qualitative Exploratory Study

Zahid Ali Memon, Abeer Mian, Sophie Reale, Rachael Spencer, Zulfiqar Bhutta, Hora Soltani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Unmet need for family planning in Pakistan is high, with 17% of all married women wanting to avoid or delay pregnancy. However, they cannot owing to a lack of access to modern contraception and sociocultural hindrances. With the modern contraceptive prevalence rate stagnant at approximately 25% over the last 5 years, it is important to explore barriers and enablers to modern contraception uptake to reduce maternal and child mortality and improve reproductive health outcomes for young girls and women. Objective: A formative research approach was taken to explore community member and health care provider perspectives on access to and use of family planning methods in 2 rural districts of Sindh, Pakistan. The broader goal of this study was to provide evidence to design and implement a socioculturally appropriate family planning intervention within the existing service delivery platforms to increase modern contraceptive uptake in the context of rural Sindh. Methods: A qualitative exploratory design was used. Between October 2020 and December 2020, 11 focus group discussions and 11 in-depth interviews were conducted. Focus group discussions were held with men and women from the community, including adolescents, to build an understanding of community beliefs and concepts regarding modern contraceptive methods. In-depth interviews were conducted with health care workers and explored intersections between family planning and reproductive health service delivery at the facility and outreach levels. Results: The findings revealed that limited financial autonomy, restricted women’s mobility, discriminatory gender norms, and cultural practices left women with little opportunity for independent decision-making on the use of modern contraceptive methods. Furthermore, facility-level and supply-side barriers, including frequent stock-outs of modern contraceptives combined with a lack of capacity of health workers to provide quality family planning services and counseling, played an important role in demotivating women from seeking services. In addition, a lack of integration of family planning with maternal and child health service delivery at the health system level was emphasized as a major missed opportunity for contraceptive uptake. Several demand-side barriers to family planning uptake were also highlighted. These included husbands’ or in-laws’ disapproval, social stigma, and perceived fear of side effects regarding modern family planning method use. More importantly, a lack of adolescent-friendly reproductive health services and spaces for counseling was identified as a critical intervention area. Conclusions: This study provides qualitative evidence on issues related to the effectiveness of family planning interventions, specifically in the context of rural Sindh. The findings emphasize the need to design socioculturally appropriate and health system–relevant family planning interventions—the effectiveness of which can be improved through their integration with maternal and child health service delivery mechanisms, consistent service provision, and opportunities for the capacity building of the health care workforce.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere43494
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • family planning
  • gender
  • modern contraception
  • sexual and reproductive health


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