Background. Implanon NXT, a long-acting reversible contraceptive, was introduced in South Africa (SA) in early 2014, aiming to expand the method mix and increase its effectiveness. Initial uptake was high, but has since declined considerably. In these early years after the implant’s introduction, it is important to identify reasons for the decline, and remedy gaps in services. Objectives. To determine periods of use, reasons for the use and early removal of the implant Implanon NXT. Methods. In 2016, we recruited 152 women from six clinics in the City of Johannesburg, and six in North West Province, SA. A semistructured interview was administered to 91 women currently using the implant and 61 previous users. We examined user perspectives, factors influencing women’s experiences with the implant and reasons for discontinuation. Results. The participants’ mean age was 30 years, with only 15% aged <25. Implant uptake was motivated by convenience (less frequent visits required than for short-acting methods) and by favourable views of the method among friends, family and healthcare providers. Only about a quarter of women recalled being counselled pre-insertion about implant effectiveness, and half about side-effects pre-insertion. Among discontinuers, the median time to device removal was 8 months (interquartile range 6 - 12), and this was primarily as a result of side-effects (90%), especially bleeding-pattern changes and headaches. Removals were most common among married and cohabiting women, often ascribed to the effects of bleeding on their sexual relationships. Rumours and misinformation contributed to some removals. Overall, women’s experiences with the implant were rated ‘good’ or ‘very good’ by 74% of those continuing use, many of whom reported not having experienced any side-effects or that these had diminished over time. Conclusion. Levels of acceptability among continuing users were high, mainly linked to the method’s convenience. While early favourable views drove uptake, negative perceptions, if unaddressed, may now undermine services. Deficiencies in counselling around effectiveness and side-effects may extend to contraceptive services more generally. Women require more intensive support when experiencing sideeffects, including effective systematic approaches to ameliorating bleeding and headaches. Implant services could specifically target young women and first-time contraceptive users. These actions together could reverse the persistent decline in implant use in SA.
Keywords: Implant removal; Counselling; Implanon; User perspectives.
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