HealthDay News — If access to modern contraception methods increased, there would be 15 million fewer unwanted pregnancies in low- and middle-income nations each year, results of a study published in Human Reproduction suggest.

An estimated 87 million women face an unplanned pregnancy due to the underuse of contraception each year, reported the investigators.

“After becoming pregnant without intention, many of these women are presented with a stark set of scenarios: risk of death, disability, and lower educational and employment potential,” wrote Saverio Bellizzi, of the World Health Organization, and colleagues.

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To determine the contribution of the underuse of modern birth control methods to the annual undesired pregnancies in 35 middle- and low-income countries, the scientists analyzed demographic and health surveys conducted between 2005 and 2012.

Birth control was defined as modern or traditional. Modern methods included condoms, intrauterine devices, oral and injectable contraceptives, implants, and sterilization. Traditional methods included withdrawal and trying to time intercourse when women weren’t fertile.

The risk of unwanted pregnancy was 2.7 times higher among those who used traditional methods and 14.5 times higher among those who used no birth control compared to women who used modern methods.

Among the 14,893 women in the study who did not want to get pregnant but did not use any type of birth control, the main reason (37%) for non-use was fear of side effects and health concerns. Other reasons included opposition to birth control (22%), underestimating the risks of pregnancy (nearly 18%), cost, and not knowing how to obtain modern birth control (both 2.4 %).

“Health workers have an important role to play in reassuring, educating, treating symptoms, and finding the methods that best suits an individual. However, front-line health workers need the skills to do this, and our experience has been that many have the same misconceptions,” said Howard Sobel, MD, MPH, of the World Health Organization in a press release.

“We could prevent the overwhelming majority of pregnancies if we could debunk the myths and misperceptions about modern methods and use long-term methods of contraception, such as implants and intrauterine devices.”


  1. Bellizzi S et al. Human Reproduction. 2015; doi: 10.1093/humrep/deu348