KARACHI: Amid fears of a new wave of inflation following Pakistan’s deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $6 billion assistance, concern has been expressed that the understanding with the global financing institution may also lead to heavy taxes on contraceptive products that could directly affect measures to control population growth in the country.

The issue was brought to light on Friday by singer, rights activist and social worker Shehzad Roy who took to social media to appeal to the federal government as well as the IMF authorities to address the issue and avoid imposing any tax on such products.

“17pc of couples in Pakistan want to use contraceptives but can’t access it,” he tweeted. “In this situation, tax on contraceptives will directly affect population growth. I request IMF, [prime minister] Imran Khan, [finance minister] Shaukat Tarin to waive off tax and give strong message that exponentially growing population is a huge issue.”

Talking to Dawn later, Mr Roy, who’s also the UN goodwill ambassador for population and family planning, referred to the last Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey which suggested that 34 per cent couples in the country were using contraceptive products.

“But these 17 per cent are those who want to use them, but don’t have access due to different reasons,” he said, adding that the new tax regime would further shrink the scope that could lead to consequences, which the country couldn’t afford. “There is a misconception that the duty is only on imported contraceptives and these are used only by the elite class,” he said.

“The imported contraceptives include implants and IUDs [intrauterine device]. Implants need to be replaced every five years and intrauterine devices every 12 years. These are long-term reversible contraceptives and are used instead of sterilisation. It’s a great convenience as one does not need to see a healthcare provider frequently. In contrast, the methods made locally are pills and injections. A pill has to be taken every day and an injection every one to three months. This means recurrent visits to a healthcare provider,” he added.

Mr Roy said he had also taken up the issue with Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin personally and found him positive in response.

He said he was determined to take up the matter with other authorities as well, if he found it necessary.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2022

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