These $1 Contraceptives Last Three Months—and Could Change the Lives of Millions

An injectable drug could help prevent millions of unintended pregnancies.

The new Sayana Press contraceptive shots last three months and are easily administered in rural, nonclinical settings. (Photo: Courtesy Pfizer and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)


Nov 20, 2014· 1 MIN READ
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

Women in Burkina Faso are the first to gain access to a new, easy-to-use contraceptive injection that lasts for three months, costs $1, and could "transform women's lives" in the world's poorest countries, according to health officials.

The new Pfizer-developed contraceptive, Sayana Press, is a small, all-in-one disposable needle and syringe developed for populations where access to modern contraception is limited or nonexistent. It delivers a dose of the widely used drug Depo-Provera. Last week, a collaboration among Pfizer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which also funds TakePart World), and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation was announced to expand the distribution of Sayana Press to 69 developing countries by 2020.

Access to contraceptives is crucial in the developing world. For those 69 countries alone, Sayana Press could prevent 77 million unintended pregnancies and 125,000 deaths during childbirth, according to a report released last year by Family Planning 2020, a global partnership organization focused on voluntary family planning.

“When women are able to plan their families, they are more likely to survive pregnancy and childbirth, to have healthier newborns and children, and to invest more in their families’ health and well-being,” said Dr. Chris Elias, president of Global Development Programs at the Gates Foundation, in a statement.

The program’s initial launch in the West African nation of Burkina Faso aimed to support women in one of the world's poorest countries, where nearly one-third of pregnancies are unintended, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization focused on reproductive health. Contributing factors include a lack of education; cultural traditions that emphasize natural family planning and give husbands control over what kind of contraception their wives use (only 8 percent of married women use modern contraception); and the illegality of abortion. The same study found that 64 percent of women surveyed said they wanted to avoid pregnancy but couldn’t because of lack of access to and the high cost of modern contraception.

“Sayana Press is now an option for women who have been at the margins of family planning access for way too long,” said Dr. Cathy Ndiaye, a project manager with PATH, a Seattle nonprofit that develops global health innovations. Ndiaye orchestrated the program in Burkina Faso and hopes it will be available to "any woman who chooses to use it.”

Another benefit of Sayana Press is that it can be easily administered in rural, nonclinical settings, making it accessible to more women. So far, results have been impressive: Nearly 6,000 women in Burkina Faso use the contraceptive, and for nearly 2,000 of these women, it’s the first time they’re using contraception.

To date, 75,000 Sayana Press units have been delivered to health clinics in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Uganda, and nearly 3,000 health providers have been trained to administer the contraceptive, according to the Gates Foundation. It hopes to see an additional 120 million women given access to family planning services in the next six years.

“This initiative is a major innovation in family planning service delivery,” said PATH President and CEO Steve Davis in a statement. “By making injectable contraceptives available at the community level, it offers more women control over the timing and spacing of their children and a better chance at a healthy life.”