Low- and middle-income countries could save billions of dollars a year in healthcare costs by investing in making contraception widely available to women, researchers say.
Among 923 million women wanting to avoid pregnancy in these countries, about one in four does not use modern contraception, according to a new report published on Tuesday by the Guttmacher Institute, a United States-based sexual health research and policy organisation.
Making contraception available to everyone, including counselling on different methods and follow-up services, would require increasing annual spending to $12.6bn from $7.1bn spent on it now, the report said.
The reduction in unintended pregnancies would save about $16bn a year in maternal and newborn care, or about $3 in savings for every extra $1 spent, according to the report.
“What we’ve shown is that it’s affordable to put sexual and reproductive health as a part of a universal health coverage programme,” said Elizabeth Sully, senior research scientist at Guttmacher.
“The potential gains are well within reach and the costs of inaction far too high,” she told journalists in an online briefing.
Many women are either uninformed about modern contraception, cannot afford it or cannot access it – and unmet needs are particularly high among adolescents, the study showed.
The issue has taken on new urgency during the coronavirus pandemic, since resources in many places have been diverted away from sexual and reproductive health care and women have lost access to contraception or abortion services.
“Irrespective of the lockdown, young people are still having sex,” said Patrick Segawa, a team leader with the youth-led organisation Public Health Ambassadors Uganda.
“If the government does not take initiative or be proactive … we’ll find that by the time we go into the post-COVID-19 era we will be having lots of cases of teenage pregnancies,” he said.
Each year, 111 million unintended pregnancies occur in low- and middle-income countries, accounting for 49 percent of all pregnancies in those countries, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The United Nations has estimated that the pandemic could cause an additional seven million unwanted pregnancies this year worldwide.