According to the World Health Organization, more than 225 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but are not using a safe and effective family planning method.
Research presented at the event, which was organised by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), showed that training health workers to advise on family planning and offering contraception that matches local needs broadens the reach of pregnancy prevention efforts.
For example, USAID’s Evidence to Action programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania spread the word about the Standard Days Method, a simple string of beads with a dark colour to differentiate ‘safe days’ for sex or a light colour to represent when a woman is most likely to get pregnant.
The four nations in the programme are “essential countries” for reducing maternal and child deaths, and provide lessons that could be applied elsewhere, explained Ann Hirschey, who runs USAID’s Service Delivery Improvement Division.
In Shinyanga, a heavily Catholic region in the north of Tanzania, only 12.5 per cent of women had been using modern contraceptives, such as condoms, hormonal and non-hormonal methods and contraceptive creams, the event heard.
In a study that ran from November 2014 to August 2015, 1,500 Shinyanga women — out of a total of 9,000 health service clients — received the beads. Around 1,200 of these women were new adopters of family planning, and only 40 women discontinued the method during the trial period, said Mustafa Kudrati, Tanzania’s representative for Pathfinder International, the NGO which ran the study.
But the event, held in Washington D.C. last week (5 October), also heard that barriers remain to offering better contraception, including low government funding for such initiatives.
There are also legal issues — for example in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where any form of contraceptive aid is illegal, said Aben Ngay, Pathfinder International’s representative in the country.
And while some governments have adopted helpful policies, dedicated funding has been slower to arrive, the speakers acknowledged.
“Some of the poorer, smaller countries do face real challenges,” said Duff Gillespie, a family planning researcher at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. “It’s difficult when you’re small and have limited resources and fewer donors’ resources coming in.”