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Study: Access to Modern Contraception Could Avoid Unwanted Pregnancies

  • Joe DeCapua

FILE - A woman adjusts cardboard boxes assembled to form a display highlighting the issue of teenage pregnancy outside the National Population Council's headquarters in Mexico City, May 29, 2014.

FILE - A woman adjusts cardboard boxes assembled to form a display highlighting the issue of teenage pregnancy outside the National Population Council's headquarters in Mexico City, May 29, 2014.

A new study says the vast majority of unwanted pregnancies every year could be avoided if women had access to modern contraception. The findings appear in the online version of Human Reproduction.

The study used demographic and health surveys in 35 low and middle income countries. That represents one-third of the world’s population. It says 15 million of the 16.7 million unwanted pregnancies every year could be prevented.

Dr. Howard Sobel, one of the authors, is regional coordinator of the reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent division at the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Regional Office.

“We looked at the risk of getting pregnant if they did not use any contraceptives," he saidfrom the Philippines capital, Manila. "And we looked at the risk of getting pregnant if they used traditional methods like calendar rhythm method and withdrawal, meaning that before ejaculation the person pulls out. And we compared that to those that used modern methods.”

Modern methods include pills, implants, injectable contraceptives and IUD’s or intrauterine devices.

Sobel said many women who have unintended pregnancies face – what he calls -- a stark future.

“Let’s just take their life potential. For every child that you have in a poor family – it’s another mouth to feed, meaning that you have to spend more of the money toward that. Poor people end up having more difficulty in getting their children through school. They have higher dropout rates, lower educational potential and ultimately lower earnings potential. So, the cycle of poverty continues,” he said.

And then, there’s the health risk.

“We’re looking at a very high rate of increased risk for the mother of dying and being malnourished," he said. "We’re looking at the same type of risk for every child also. When you have undesired pregnancies it affects the family. It affects governments and it affects society. If we could address this then we could have a dramatic improvement in basically development worldwide.”

Sobel said that greater access to modern contraception would also result in a large drop in the number of abortions.

For the study women were asked to give the main reason for not using contraception.

“The top reasons are really around myths and misperceptions," Sobel said. "The number one and number two reason, which we lumped together, is fear of side effects and health concerns. The risk is not very high of health effects. Certainly getting pregnant – it’s going to be something very taxing for anybody. And if it’s an undesired pregnancy or two or three, that obviously has a bigger impact on health.”

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