The Indian government has launched a pilot project to help women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to avoid the stigma of pregnancy, but the move has raised questions about how much it will help.
The new initiative aims to provide free counselling and referrals to women who have not yet conceived, said Health Minister Uma Bharati on Wednesday.
The scheme, which will also provide free antenatal counselling, will be launched in the next three months and will also be extended to women in rural areas, the minister said in a video message.
Bharati said the scheme was also meant to “prevent the stigma” of pregnancy.
“It will help women to feel comfortable about the possibility of becoming pregnant and to make their decision based on medical evidence,” she said.
“If women are worried about their pregnancy, they should take the necessary measures to reduce the chances of complications, she added.
The government is planning to extend the scheme to rural areas where the maternal mortality rate is the highest, as well as to people with low incomes and those who have been unemployed.
The pilot scheme is part of a larger plan to provide financial and other support to pregnant women and to help them avoid “reproductive complications”, Bharati said.
The Government of India launched the scheme on March 10, 2016, to help rural women in remote areas.
India has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with 1.5 million maternal deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization.
It is also one of only four countries in the Middle East and North Africa with a high maternal mortality.
The Indian government’s goal of preventing pregnancies among women under the age of 25 has faced opposition from religious groups who argue that abortion is against their beliefs.
The United Nations Population Fund said in 2016 that India had one of highest maternal death rates among developing countries and that the country had one in six women aged 15-44 who die in childbirth.