Filling the Unmet Need for Contraception: Can We Deliver for Young Women?

RH Reality Check | 06-07-2010

When we speak about universal access to contraceptives and the huge unmet need for family planning services that exists in the world today, the image that usually comes to mind is that of poor women in Africa. Indeed, in most countries, poor women have a much higher rate of unmet need than do women with higher incomes, and in Africa, unmet need for contraception is much higher than in other regions. More than 60 percent of women of reproductive age have an unmet need for contraception in Africa.

What is frequently forgotten though, is that unmet need is high among older adolescents and young adults, and most pronounced among young women 20 to 29 years of age. From any angle we look, young women are at the greatest disadvantage in terms of access to needed services, in Africa and everywhere in the world. An estimated 818 million women worldwide would like to limit childbearing but do not have access to modern contraceptives. Nearly 70 percent of young women in sub-Saharan Africa and an equal share in Southeast and South Central Asia have unmet need for contraception. As a result of this gap, the number of unintended pregnancies and births if very high. Unintended pregnancies contribute to unsafe abortions: Adolescents account for an estimated 2.5 million of the approximately 19 million unsafe abortions that occur annually in the developing world.

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