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Feature Medicine and the Media

How Pakistan’s media spreads the message about reproductive and sexual health

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 16 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1309
  1. Syed H Abidi, assistant professor1,
  2. Muhammad Raees, medical student2,
  3. Syed Ali, associate professor3
  1. 1Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Aga Khan University, Karachi 74800, Pakistan
  2. 2Medical College, Aga Khan University, Karachi 74800, Pakistan
  3. 3Department of Biomedical Sciences, Nazarbayev School of Medicine, Nazarbayev University, Astana, Kazakhstan
  1. Correspondence to: S Ali syed.ali{at}

Liberalising influences in the past 20 years have led to a media policy that may have helped improve reproductive and sexual health in the country, say Syed H Abidi, Muhammad Raees, and Syed Ali

When Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, then president of Pakistan, died on 17 August 1988, it informally pronounced the end of an era widely regarded in Pakistan as one of religious fundamentalism, repression, and blatant media censorship.

Then in the early 2000s Pervez Musharraf’s government implemented policies that emphasised moderation in religious practice, ideological tolerance, and collective socioeconomic emancipation.1 2 This government also supported a free media, which led to the establishment of more than 100 cable television channels and multitudes of newspapers, magazines, and radio channels.3

Television documentaries that highlight socially sensitive topics may increase public awareness and attract the attention of policy makers. In 2013 three documentaries by Sanjog Pakistan, a non-profit organisation for children’s rights, tackled child trafficking and prostitution in the country.4 5 6 Other documentaries have portrayed the lives and problems of female sex workers and transgender people.5 6

Public awareness of sexual health

The government also allowed foreign channels to air documentaries pertaining to sex and sexuality. On primetime television it has become common to see transgender people as both fictional characters and programme hosts. In subsequent years the media broadened the public’s comfort zone to a point where families felt …

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