Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter, which took on three persistent myths that block progress for the poor. In the same spirit, this week we’re debunking six myths that impede progress in global health. Today we’re taking on:
There are enough contraceptive choices, if only people would use them.
Mythbuster: Jane Hutchings, leader of the Reproductive Health Program at PATH.
Family planning efforts have been so successful in educating women about contraceptives and providing access to them that it’s easy to see why people might think this is true. In surveys of women who say they don’t want to be pregnant but who aren’t using contraception, it used to be that many said they were unaware of contraception or they didn’t have access to methods. Now, more women say they don’t use contraception because current methods don’t meet their needs.
That doesn’t mean there still aren’t challenges in access and education, but it does indicate that family planning programs have made progress there. We need to make similar progress in improving methods of contraception.
Contraception “on demand”
In surveys, for example, women say they are interested in more “on demand” methods of contraception—that is, contraceptives you use only when you have sex. At PATH, we’re working with partners on several products that fall into this category: the Woman’s Condom, the SILCS diaphragm, and an oral contraceptive pill that women could take only before or after they have sex. Another contraceptive innovation—Sayana Press—will enhance access by making it easier for a range of providers, and perhaps even a women herself, to administer contraceptive injections good for three months.
A recent analysis of unmet need for family planning estimates that 222 million women worldwide who want to avoid pregnancy aren’t using modern contraceptives. For many of them, the current choices aren’t enough. With any other health issue, I don’t think we’d tell them, “You’ve got enough choices; make them work. We don’t need further innovation in this field.” We certainly shouldn’t do that with something as important to the health of women and children as contraception.