One of the key statements to come out of the 2016 International Conference on Family Planning is the Global Consensus Statement supporting the expansion of contraceptive choices for young people to include long-acting reversible contraceptives or LARCs. Over 40 leading global health and development organisations have endorsed this statement.
1.8 billion – that is the estimated number of adolescents in the world and a significant number of them are sexually active and don’t want to get pregnant until they finish their education, get a job or they want to space their children. However, the limited access to LARCs restricts their ability to exercise full contraceptive choices. Lack of information, myths and misconceptions, lack of availability and poor community support are some of the key barriers.
Speaking at a press conference, C.M Purandare, president of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) said that the goal of heir organisation is to encourage midwives, gynaecologists and obstetricians to work towards removing barriers in their countries to the use of LARCs to meet the reproductive needs of young people.
“We have women who get pregnant and who come for an abortion and are not given information about the basket of contraceptive choices”, said Dr Purandare. “After a few months she is back for the same thing. If we do not provide her with information and contraceptives, we are failing her for the second time”.
In many countries it is hard for adolescents to walk into hospitals and ask for contraceptive advice. “Injectables are a boon to adolescents and efforts have to be made to ensure the knowledge is available as widely as posisble”, added Purandare.
At the very core it boils down to a question of agency and autonomy for young women believes Ramya Jawahar, Vice Chair, International Youth Alliance for Family Planning who is from Bangalore, India.
“Women are shuffled between the homes we are all born into and those we are married into”, says Jawahar. “Now that LARCs are in the health centres, the challenge will be to get women into these centres and getting the men on board”.
The safety of LARCs for adolescents also came up for discussion at the conference. There are misconceptions and myths relating to the impact of long acting methods on the health of adolescents.
“Adolescents are eligible to use all methods like adults”, said Dr V Chandra-Mouli of WHO-HQ, pointing to a WHO study which said there was no medical evidence to support the perception that implants or any other LARCs impact fertility.
“The most important rationale for investing in young people is demographics”, he added, pointing to countries like Hong Kong and South Korea that have invested in education and health. “Investing in young people is good for them, their families and their countries”.