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Worldwide 222 million women have an unmet need for modern contraceptives. That means of those women wanting to delay or prevent pregnancy, 222 million are not using contraceptives.
This number is burned into my brain, 222 million. Let’s put this in perspective. Currently in the US, there are roughly 156 million women, so the number of women worldwide without access to contraceptives is greater than the entire population of women in the US.
Though the numbers are staggering, there is hope. This year alone has shown great commitments worldwide for increasing funding and access to contraceptives, with a $4.3 billion commitment from donors and developing countries over the next eight years pledged at the July 2012 London Summit on Family Planning. Family planning is coming back in the spotlight nationally with the upcoming US presidential election and worldwide after the London Summit.
Advancements and technological breakthroughs in contraceptives are also changing the landscape of contraceptive use worldwide. Better or less expensive emergency contraceptive options, implants, vaginal rings, new forms of diaphragms, female condoms, and many more options are available but limited in some parts of the developing world. Since 2008, 42 million more women are accessing contraceptive methods in the developing world, but population growth is also on the rise.
To stay on top of unmet need as well as population growth, the global community will need to commit to making advancements in at least two areas: medical advancements and changing behavior and social norms around contraceptive use. Though basic in theory, the combination of these factors is complicated. To put it simply, you would need to do the following: make better contraceptive technologies, reduce costs of technologies to increase supply, change behavior to increase demand, and alter social norms to create an environment where modern contraceptive use is acceptable and even encouraged.
I also think it’s critical to understand why contraceptives are so important. The use of contraceptives will reduce unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and maternal and infant mortality. This will give women the freedom to have productive lives; controlling their fertility can allow women to further their education and be a larger part of the community. My colleague Liz Futrell writes about her own successes that resulted from her ability to avert unwanted pregnancies and pursue her own career goals.
Today is World Contraception Day, and I hope we can all continue to bring awareness to the subject and strive to bring those 222 million women with unmet need down to zero.