THE quality of services provided at health clinics in Malaysia largely affects community access and awareness. Primary care providers play an important role in communicating with people, enabling them to make informed choices regarding their reproductive health.
The culture of communication, however, can be largely dictated by individual and personal beliefs of healthcare workers in the absence of a structured training programme.
Implementation of health policies is imperative to ensure that the standard operating procedures (SOP) also translate to the on-the-ground realities in a clinic situation.
A woman visited a health clinic for information on family planning as she would be getting married soon. The doctor was not available, and the nurse did not provide any form of counselling or more information to the woman, who was told to return at a later date.
Government healthcare services are reluctant to provide family planning advice to unmarried women. However, it is imperative to inculcate awareness through information on the individual level as a measure to reduce stigma, a serious barrier to access.
Primary care providers, especially nurses, as the first point of contact for patients play a part in increasing awareness of the importance and role of family planning.
Hence, turning away patients or telling them to return at another time is a missed opportunity to provide counselling to those in need, especially when they are actively seeking information.
The Health Ministry must generate greater awareness of family planning and contraceptives through concerted efforts as a measure to reduce baby dumping, unwanted pregnancy and to uphold women’s rights to make informed reproductive health choices.
RRAAM (Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia) recommends the following measures to standardise sexual and reproductive health services in clinics throughout Malaysia to implement the SOP across the board:
> Introduce a structured training programme across all clinics in Malaysia;
> Provide standardised training to all essential care providers in family planning medicine and counselling, including training nurses to provide counselling on contraceptive and family planning options;
> Provide placement for well-trained professionals within dedicated family planning clinics; and
> Increase public access to reproductive health services by trained healthcare professionals without fear of judgment and stigma.
Ramping up efforts to increase and improve training for all healthcare workers in primary care is a step in the right direction towards improving the state of sexual and reproductive healthcare in Malaysia. The Health Ministry cannot afford to ignore the realities of reproductive health services in Malaysia any longer.
AMINAH RAWTHER , Research and Advocacy officer Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia
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