Some medical doctors in India have publicly expressed opposition to making emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) easily accessible, even though ECPs are included in the method mix of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare program and as an over-the-counter (OTC) product. Such opposition affects access to ECPs by influencing policy, procurement, and distribution, besides stigmatizing the ECP user. This study was conducted to assess ECP knowledge, attitudes, and practices of doctors in North India.
A cross-sectional survey of 83 doctors who provide ECPs, randomly selected from 3 cities in the state of Uttar Pradesh, was conducted in 2011. The quantitative data were complemented by 19 in-depth interviews with purposively selected senior gynecologists and other opinion leaders.
All surveyed physicians cited the correct dose and regimen for ECPs. However, the large majority of those surveyed believed that ECPs work by preventing implantation. (The best evidence currently indicates that ECPs do not work by preventing implantation.) Most doctors also believed incorrectly that ECPs have several contraindications and side effects. They also had strong reservations against OTC provision of ECPs by pharmacists and community health workers (CHWs) and negative attitudes toward ECP users, which serve as serious medical barriers to mainstreaming use of ECPs.
Physicians and their professional associations exert a strong influence on the operationalization of national contraceptive policies. Evidence-based advocacy and educational campaigns targeting doctors are needed to address and resolve their reservations about ECPs, particularly about its provision as an OTC product and its distribution by CHWs. Partnerships with medical associations can help reduce doctors' negative attitudes and create a conducive environment for influencing clinical practices. Such changes are needed to increase the availability and use of ECPs as part of a package of a full range of contraceptive method options to prevent unwanted pregnancy among the most vulnerable populations.