The family planning doctors we talked to for this investigation say that the effects of the decisions in Bucharest were immediately felt at grass-root level.
Irina Frunză is among the pioneers of family planning in Romania. She is part of the generation of doctors formed in the early ’90s and currently has an office in Bacău, in the maternity clinic.
Frunză says that those who come to her for counselling “want something tangible besides explaining to them what is what, what is right and what is wrong”. She thinks that in 2016 she received the last batch of free contraceptives.
“From the moment we had nothing to give them [for free],” she says, “there was a dramatic decline [in the number of patients].”
As proof, Frunză reads to us from her registers. At the end of 2009, she had 14,000 consultations per year. In 2019, she had registered approximately 7,000 consultations, and the pandemic has further halved that number.
The doctor also says that she had a working capital which she could use to buy contraceptives. To those she counselled, she sold them at lower prices than in pharmacies. She then used the money to purchase new batches of contraceptives.
In the absence of free contraceptives, Dr. Camelia Petre, who coordinates the Reproductive Health Centre at Sibiu County Hospital, also uses the institution’s working capital to buy further stocks. Despite the very low prices, many of those who use family planning services still can’t afford them. For a contraceptive pack, the price in Dr. Petre’s office is between five and seven lei.
The doctor from Sibiu says that she has days when she has a maximum of two consultations. If she sells a pack every three months, she considers that “a lot”.
Dr Iuliana Balteș, who now works at a family planning centre in Bucharest’s northern Sector 1, but who started her career in the small town of Urziceni, says that she used to give, free of charge, 3,000 packs of contraceptive pills per month and several dozen injectable contraceptives. In Urziceni, she was sought by women from rural areas who wanted to obtain “control over their fertility”.
“We had patients who we saw through from the beginning of their sexual life until menopause without any abortions,” says Balteș. She remembers that when she gave out free contraceptives, there were more patients at her door than at the gynaecologist, where they would have gone for an abortion.
At the family planning centre in Sector 1, where she has been working since 2008, she offers free contraceptives, but they were bought by the local administration and can only be given to residents in the sector. Iuliana Balteș doesn’t have much time to spend at the centre, because she also holds a management position in the unit. In addition, she is also dealing with the COVID vaccination program.
The Ministry of Health told us that in 2020 there were only two offices nationwide where free contraceptives were offered.
Tulit-Incze Agnes, from a family planning office in Miercurea Ciuc, Harghita County, is a psychologist. The last year when she was able to offer free contraceptives was 2014. Ever since, the number of people using her services has decreased. She thinks that gratuities are very important, because they give her a chance to offer informed advice, which “matters a lot to patients”.