HARARE - Zimbabwe's ailing economy appears to be impacting the use of contraceptives in that country, according to statistics released by the United Nations Population Fund.
The research, conducted for the UN and the government of Zimbabwe, found that thousands of women are getting pregnant each year because they cannot afford proper birth control methods.
"I think the data show that there are lot of women, 60 percent, who do not want to get pregnant again, but aren't using long-acting methods," said Dr. James Gribble from Features Group International, which conducted the research. "They are using oral contraceptives. It is kind of a mismatch. They are using a short-acting method, when they have long-term interest in not getting pregnant again.”
A nurse at a government hospital in Harare, who asked not to be identified, said the high cost of birth control forces adolescents in Zimbabwe to resort to the black market.
"The youths in the tertiary institutions and in the streets there are accessing unregistered commodities," she said. "We do not have those statistics. So the unmet need is still there. But we need to know what they are getting from the streets or from unregistered [outlets], so that when we device our model of delivery, we will address the issue which means we are going to where they are."
Official figures say Zimbabwe’s contraceptive prevalence rate -- the rate at which contraceptives are effectively used - is at 59 percent. Several international aid groups and governments, including the United States, are funding activities that seek to push that rate higher, and to expand access to condoms and other birth control devices.
Opposition legislator Ruth Labode, who is a medical doctor, says that making contraceptives less expensive would bring down the country's high rate of deaths during childbirth.
"Zimbabweans know. Nobody needs to tell them that they need to use family planning," she said. "The economic situation demands that we space our children. I believe we can meet the Millennium Development goal for child mortality reduction by using family planning. And we can save mothers from dying. If she got free family planning she would not have gotten pregnant anyway. So she would not be dying anyway."
A separate UN report released Wednesday finds that, despite a strong response by Zimbabwe's government, the country is one of 15 that accounts for 75 percent of new HIV infections globally.