Of the 38 million adolescent women aged 15–19 in developing regions who are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy, 23 million have an unmet need for modern contraceptives. This means they are not using a contraceptive method at all or they are using traditional methods, which are less effective than modern methods.
Meeting young women’s contraceptive needs not only protects individual adolescents’ well-being, it is critical to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals—and not just the few goals focused on sexual and reproductive health, but all of them. To that end, during the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, the international partnership Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) was formed with the aim of ensuring access to contraceptive services for an additional 120 million women and girls who have an unmet need for contraception in 69 of the world’s poorest countries by 2020. Some 13 million of the 23 million adolescent women with unmet need for modern contraceptives live in the 69 countries that are the focus of FP2020.
This week, as we mark the midpoint to 2020, it is more apparent than ever that meeting young people’s needs must be at the forefront of the global family planning community’s efforts. Helping young women avoid unintended pregnancies by ensuring they have the high-quality contraceptive information, services and supplies they need can have far-reaching benefits for them, their children and societies as a whole.
Current use of modern contraceptives by 15 million adolescent women prevents an estimated 5.4 million unintended pregnancies each year. Of these pregnancies, an estimated 2.9 million would have ended in abortion, many of which would have been performed under unsafe conditions. The current level of modern contraceptive use also prevents 3,000 maternal deaths annually among adolescent women in developing countries.
These are impressive numbers and now a recent study from the Guttmacher Institute estimates the added potential impact and cost of meeting the contraceptive needs of the remaining 23 million adolescent women who currently have an unmet need for contraception.
We found that improving existing contraceptive services for current modern contraceptive users, as well as expanding services to the 23 million adolescent women with unmet need in developing regions, would cost an estimated $770 million annually, or an average of just $21 per user each year. Put differently, the cost in these regions would be a mere 12 cents per capita. This investment would provide contraceptive information, services and supplies, as well as needed increases in health worker training and supervision, upgraded facilities and supply systems, and public education regarding reproductive health. Together, these improvements would ensure adolescents have access to a range of contraceptive methods and receive information and support for choosing a method and using it effectively.
The impact of this investment would be truly remarkable. Investing $21 per user each year to meet the contraceptive needs of adolescents in developing regions would result in six million fewer unintended pregnancies each year. There would be 2.1 million fewer unplanned births, 2.4 million fewer unsafe abortions and 5,600 fewer maternal deaths related to unintended pregnancies.
These goals are a crucial component of the broad FP2020 agenda for all women of reproductive age. Through financial investment, they are attainable, and achieving them would have enormous long-term effects on young women’s lives and contribute to overall poverty reduction. Not only would this investment improve adolescent women’s sexual and reproductive health, it would improve their long-term social and economic well-being. Enabling young women to avoid unintended pregnancy and childbearing until they feel ready to become mothers allows them to achieve more education, better job opportunities, and healthier lives for themselves and their children. Meeting their contraceptive needs is a key element of building stronger communities and, ultimately, enabling nations to meet their development goals.
July 11 marked the midpoint of Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), the global partnership that supports the rights of women and girls to decide, freely and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they want to have. This blog is part of a series that looks at a key intervention to accelerate progress on our goal to enable an additional 120 million women and girls to use modern family planning methods: ensuring young people have the right to plan their families and their futures. We know that the ability to reach more young people with contraception in ways that speak to their own needs and desires is essential to achieving our goal by 2020, which is a critical milestone on the road to 2030 and providing universal access to family planning under the Sustainable Development Goals. For more information, visit www.familyplanning2020.org/midpoint.
Image: Family Planning 2020/Dominic Chavez