Background: Unintended pregnancies continue to burden many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Our aim was to estimate the number of unintended pregnancies in the region and model the impact of expanding use of contraceptive implants at the expense of short-term hormonal birth control methods.
Study design: For the 42 countries in mainland sub-Saharan Africa, we estimated current levels of unintended pregnancy, prevalence of hormonal contraceptive use and number of unintended pregnancies stemming from early discontinuation and typical method failure rates. Using a decision-analytic model, we estimated the potential impact of more widespread use of the contraceptive implant.
Results: Every year in sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 14 million unintended pregnancies occur and a sizeable proportion is due to poor use of short-term hormonal methods. If 20% of the 17.6 million women using oral contraceptives or injectables wanted long-term protection and switched to the contraceptive implant, over 1.8 million unintended pregnancies could be averted over a 5-year period.
Conclusion: Poor patterns of short-term hormonal contraceptive use (high discontinuation rates and incorrect use) contribute significantly to the problem of unintended pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa. More availability and widespread use of highly effective methods, such as the contraceptive implant, will improve reproductive health in the region.