A new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 36 countries found that two-thirds of sexually active women who wish to delay or limit their fertility have stopped using contraception for fear of side effects, health problems and underestimating the likelihood of conception, according to foreign media reports. This leads to one in four pregnancies being unexpected.
While unintended pregnancies do not necessarily equate to unnecessary pregnancies, they pose a wide range of health risks to mothers and children, such as malnutrition, disease, abuse and neglect, and even death. Unintended pregnancies can further lead to a cycle of high fertility, as well as declining potential for education and employment and poverty, which can have an impact on generations.
Modern methods of contraception are crucial to preventing unwanted pregnancies. Studies have shown that 85 per cent of women who stop contraception become pregnant in the following year. Among women who miscarried as a result of unwanted pregnancy, the reasons for the suspension of contraception were related to the use of contraception (e.g. health problems, side effects or inconveniences).
Unintended pregnancy remains an important public health issue. Globally, 74 million women living in low- and middle-income countries experience unwanted pregnancies each year. This leads to 25 million unsafe abortions and 47,000 maternal deaths each year.
A WHO study found that 4,794 women had unwanted pregnancies after stopping the use of contraceptives. Fifty-six per cent of pregnant women did not use contraception in the first five years of pregnancy. 9.9 per cent of women with unintended pregnancies indicated that one of the most recent methods of contraception they had recently used was traditional methods (e.g. in vitro ejaculation or calendar), 31.2 per cent of women used short-acting modern methods (e.g. contraceptives and condoms) and 2.6 per cent of women used long-acting reversible methods of contraception (e.g. IUD and subcutaneous implants).
According to a recent WHO study published in the Philippines, only 3 per cent of women who wished to delay or limit their fertility had had access to contraception on their last visit to a health facility. It is estimated that nearly 2 million unwanted pregnancies and more than 600,000 unsafe abortions are performed each year.
This cycle will continue if appropriate counselling is not provided, the quality of services is improved, effective and acceptable contraceptive options are expanded and the rights of all women and girls are respected. Equity is also an important issue. Recent studies in the Philippines show that women with the least education but do not want to become pregnant are one third more likely to use modern contraceptives than women with the highest level spree.
Dr Ian Askew, Director of WHO’s Division of Reproductive Health and Research, said: “Access to high-quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraceptive methods, can play a crucial role in building a healthier future for women and girls and in promoting sustainable development. “