Brighter Futures Through Birth Control: Millions Gain Access to Contraception

Birth control has prevented millions of unintentional pregnancies and unsafe abortions in developing countries.
A Nigerien woman. (Photo: Direct Relief/Flickr)
Nov 12, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Twice a month, men in Niger learn about reproductive care at some 1,000 “schools for husbands” across the nation. Although wives typically stay behind, their spouses learn about the benefits of family planning as educators debunk myths about birth control making women promiscuous or potentially making them sterile.

This male-centered strategy is part of an initiative working to bring birth control to women in need across the globe. And it’s working.

A record number of women in poor countries are using effective contraception, according to a report released Thursday by Family Planning 2020, a Washington D.C.–based organization.

The global partnership, which includes the United Nations Population Fund, USAID, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, launched the initiative in 2012 after a family planning summit in London. The goal: Add 120 million contraception users across 69 target countries by 2020.

In the past three years, Family Planning 2020 has helped an additional 24.4 million women—bringing the total to 290.6 million—gain access to a range of contraceptive options, including injections, pills, condoms, and IUDs.

Along with Niger, other countries have tackled family planning through youth outreach, increased access to multiple forms of contraceptives, and government-funded health programs.

“Access to voluntary family planning saves and transforms lives. It empowers women and offers a pathway out of poverty,” Babatunde Osotimehin, a cochair at Family Planning 2020 and the executive director of United Nations Family Planning, said in a press release. “When millions more women have access to the modern contraceptives they need to choose whether, when, and how many children to have, we will all be closer to achieving our common goals.”

In the past year alone, use of contraceptives has prevented 80 million unintended pregnancies, 26.8 million unsafe abortions, and 111,000 maternal deaths, according to the study’s figures.

Despite these gains, Family Planning 2020 won’t meet its 2020 goal unless it exceeds its rate of contraceptive access from the past three years.

The report outlines plans to increase outreach, including a mobile application delivering health tips to teens in Ecuador and Nigeria and a self-injection program in Senegal and Uganda.

“Our task is ambitious but achievable,” Beth Schlachter, executive director of Family Planning 2020, said in a release. “We know more now than we did three years ago and have data and on-the-ground experience to show what works and what doesn’t work.”