We Can—And Must—Meet Contraceptive Needs in Developing Regions

Investing $21 per user per year to meet contraceptive needs and offer quality contraceptive services in developing regions would result in 6 million fewer unintended pregnancies each year. There would be 2.1 million fewer unplanned births, 2.4 million fewer unsafe abortions and 5,600 fewer maternal deaths related to unintended pregnancies.

May 19, 2016 by

This month, the fourth Women Deliver conference—in the wake of the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—focused on how to implement the SDGs so they matter most for girls and women. There was a special focus on sexual and reproductive health, in recognition of the reality that many young women—most especially those in the developing world—are being left behind.

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Today, of the 38 million adolescent women aged 15 to 19 in developing regions who are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy, 23 million have an unmet need for modern contraceptives—meaning they are not using a contraceptive method at all, or they are using a less effective traditional method.

Meanwhile, current use of modern contraceptives by the other 15 million adolescent women prevents an estimated 5.4 million unintended pregnancies each year. (Of these pregnancies, an estimated 2.9 million would have ended in abortion, many of which would have been performed under unsafe conditions.) Current use of modern contraceptives also prevents 3,000 maternal deaths annually among adolescent women in developing countries.

These are impressive numbers, and a new study from the Guttmacher Institute—released at Women Deliver this week—adds to them. Our researchers found that improving existing contraceptive services for current modern contraceptives, as well as expanding services to the 23 million adolescent women with unmet need in developing regions, would cost only an estimated $770 million annually, or an average of just $21 per user each year.

The impact of this investment would be truly remarkable.

Investing $21 per user per year to meet contraceptive needs and offer quality contraceptive services in developing regions would result in 6 million fewer unintended pregnancies each year. There would be 2.1 million fewer unplanned births, 2.4 million fewer unsafe abortions and 5,600 fewer maternal deaths related to unintended pregnancies.

These goals are attainable and the financial investment to achieve them would have enormous long-term effects on young women’s lives: Not only would it improve adolescent women’s sexual and reproductive health, it would improve their long-term social and economic well-being. Enabling young women to avoid unintended pregnancy and childbearing until they feel ready to become mothers allows them to achieve more education, better job opportunities and healthier lives for themselves and their children. Meeting adolescent women’s unmet contraceptive needs is not only the right thing to do, but is critical to achieve the SDGs—not only the few focused on sexual and reproductive health, but all of them.

Photo courtesy of UK Department for International Development on Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

csummersDr. Cynthia Summers joined the Guttmacher Institute as Vice President for Communications & Publications in 2012 and was named Executive Vice President in 2015. Prior to joining the Guttmacher Institute, Dr. Summers served as the Executive Director of Health Planning at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Director of Take Care New York and Director of Marketing and Public Affairs at Danco Laboratories. Dr. Summers received her DrPH in health policy and administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago and received their Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award in 2013. She received her MPH degree in community health from San Diego State University and her BS in biology from the University of Utah.