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March 11, 2013

More Married Women Projected to Lack Access to Modern Contraception

by Jessica Berman

A new study by international health officials projects that more than 230 million married women globally who want to prevent unplanned pregnancies using modern contraceptives will not have access to them by 2015.  Researchers say increased investment is required to address the growing need for effective contraception.  

The study looked at contraceptive use in 194 countries between 1990 and 2010, using a mathematical model to estimate the number of married women, ages 15 to 49, who used modern, effective contraception.  These family planning methods include hormonal medications such as the Pill. The analysis also estimated the number of women of childbearing age who would like to use hormonal contraception methods but are trying to prevent pregnancy through abstinence or withdrawal instead.

The model showed that this 'unmet need' for family planning decreased from 15 to 12 percent during the past two decades, while global use of the Pill, contraceptive injections and hormone implants increased from 55 to 63 percent. However, the authors project the growing global population will result in a greater need for modern family planning methods by 2015. They estimate that 233 million women will not have access to these contraceptive techniques.

Ann Biddlecom is head of the United Nations Fertility and Family Planning Section in New York and lead author of the study. In many countries, she notes, there’s a lack of support for family planning services.

“It comes to, you know, having access not only to the method itself but also better access to quality counseling and options for other kinds of methods to use if one particular method is not working for you," said Biddlecom.

Some women told the researchers they stopped using some modern contraception methods because they did not like the side effects.

By 2010, Biddlecom says, the greatest improvements in availability of hormonal contraception had occurred in central America and northern Africa, increasing by 9 percent. At the same time, the prevalence of modern contraceptive use remained low in parts of central and western Africa, with fewer than 1 in 5 married women using any sort of reliable birth control.

Because the global survey only included married women, Biddlecom believes the actual number of women needing modern methods of contraception will exceed 233 million by 2015.

“That’s an underestimate since we have not been able to do the same as of yet for another important group; women who are unmarried," she said.

Biddlecom hopes international public health researchers will be able to more accurately assess the contraceptive needs of unmarried women.

An article projecting the use of modern contraception among married women is published in the journal The Lancet.