Low levels of contraceptive use in Ethiopia result in high levels of unintended pregnancy which, in turn, create a broad range of negative consequences for women, their families and the national health care system. The new report, "Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Ethiopian Women," released today by the Guttmacher Institute and the Ethiopian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ESOG), documents the considerable financial and health benefits that would accrue from increased investment in contraceptive services.
More than seven in 10 Ethiopian women who want to avoid pregnancy either do not practice contraception or use relatively ineffective traditional methods. Forty-one percent of all pregnancies in Ethiopia are unintended, and the vast majority of these pregnancies—95%—occur among women who do not practice contraception. As a result, women are having more children than they want. The gap between wanted and actual fertility is particularly large among poor women, who have especially limited access to contraceptive services.
According to the new report, meeting just half of Ethiopian women's needs for modern contraceptives—that is, providing modern methods to 50% of the women who wish to avoid a pregnancy but currently use no method or use an ineffective method—would result in significant health benefits. There would be nearly 754,000 fewer unintended pregnancies—a 46% decline from current levels—which would mean 465,000 fewer unplanned births, 178,000 fewer induced abortions and 3,300 fewer maternal deaths than currently occur.
If the full need for modern contraceptive methods among Ethiopian women who want to avoid a pregnancy were met, the result would be even more dramatic: There would be nearly 1.5 million fewer unintended pregnancies than currently occur, which would reduce unplanned births and unsafe abortions by 89–92%, while maternal mortality would drop by nearly one-third from current levels.
Meeting women's need for modern contraceptives also saves money. While increasing family planning services would initially require increased spending, the costs would be more than compensated for by the savings that would accrue from avoiding health care costs related to unintended pregnancies and their consequences. Meeting half of the need for modern contraceptives would result in net savings of US$16 million (148 million Ethiopian birr), while fulfilling all unmet need would generate a net savings of $34 million (314 million birr).
"The benefits that result from this investment are far-reaching. It would improve women's health and lives, the well-being of their families and society as a whole", said Yirgu Gebrehiwot, ESOG president and a coauthor of the study. "These benefits result in reducing poverty levels and improving the country's ability to meet development goals. Considering the benefits, this is clearly a smart investment in a better future for Ethiopia".
"Expanding contraceptive services is a crucial step in responding to Ethiopians' desire to plan their families," said coauthor Michael Vlassoff, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute. "All stakeholders, including national and local governments, the private sector and international donors should substantially increase their investment in family planning services in Ethiopia, to meet the rising demand for contraceptives".
The full report and a detailed appendix are available at www.guttmacher.org. The high rate of return on investments in contraceptive services documented in "Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Ethiopian Women" echoes findings from similar analysis conducted by the Guttmacher Institute and partners in Uganda and the Philippines and builds on a growing body of cost-benefit research conducted by the Institute.