February 6, 2015 — Increased access to modern forms of contraception could have prevented 15 million unintended pregnancies in low- and middle-income countries annually over a seven-year period, according to a report by WHO epidemiologists published in Human Reproduction, Medical News Today reports (MacGill, Medical News Today, 2/5).
Unintended pregnancies in the countries studied can have many "serious" consequences, such as death, disability, disease, and reduced educational and employment opportunities, according to HealthDay/U.S News & World Report.
Researchers investigated the use of contraception and the reasons for contraceptive choices among women ages 15 to 49 in 35 countries from 2005 to 2012. They asked women about the forms of contraception they used and classified the methods as either "modern" or "traditional."
According to the study, modern contraceptive methods include condoms, intrauterine devices, oral and injectable contraceptives, implants and sterilization (Preidt, HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 2/4). Intercourse while a woman was exclusively breastfeeding and had not resumed menstruation since birth, a period when she is assumed unable to conceive, was also considered a modern method (Medical News Today, 2/5).
The study classified withdrawal and planning intercourse around the woman's menstrual cycle as traditional methods.
Women who used traditional methods of contraception had a risk of unintended pregnancy that was 2.7 times higher than women who used modern methods, while women who did not use any contraceptive method had a risk that was 14.5 higher than those using modern methods.
In total, the study found the risk of using traditional methods or opting not to use contraception results in roughly 16 million unplanned pregnancies per year across the 35 countries. According to the study, the use of modern contraception could have prevented 15 million of those pregnancies.
In addition, the researchers found that 13.5 million women were not using modern contraception, and 1.5 million of those who did were using it incorrectly.
The study found that 37% of women who did not use any contraceptive methods but who did not want to get pregnant said they were concerned about potential side effects or health concerns. By contrast, 22% of women who did not use any contraception cited opposition to birth control; around 18% underestimated their risk of pregnancy; 2.4% cited cost; and 2.4% cited a lack of awareness about how to obtain contraceptives or about available methods.
Howard Sobel -- a study author and regional coordinator in WHO's Western Pacific Regional Office's reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent division -- called for "national strategies" that would "address unfounded health concerns, fear of side effects, opposition and underestimated risk of pregnancy." He suggested such measures "need to be coupled with good quality contraception that is available and affordable" (HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 2/4).