Dozens of countries offer fully or partially subsidized birth control. Then why do 214 million women worldwide still have an unmet need for contraception? Earlier this month we attended the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition's Annual Membership Meeting to discuss these issues and solutions with other leaders in the field.
Here are some of the issues behind the contraceptive crisis and how we believe mobile technology can fix them.
Access to healthcare
Whether here in the United States or in the developing world, lower income women often lack adequate access to healthcare.
For some, transportation prevents them from getting to their healthcare provider for a prescription for birth control. In low income US neighborhoods, no access to a vehicle or the cost of public transportation can keep women from visiting their provider. In low-resource settings worldwide, clinics are often spread out, and many women have to walk miles to reach a medical professional who can give them contraception.
And once they get to a clinic, wait times are long and unpredictable - they could be sitting in a clinic for hours before they see their doctor.
Lack of transportation and long wait times mean women have to take hours off of work just to get a prescription. Contraception may be free, but the lost work hours will still cost them.
In countries where birth control is free, the government or local officials often choose 2 to 3 contraceptive options to import and spend money on. This limits a woman’s choice, and if the available contraceptives don’t work for her, she is out of luck.
Social stigmas play a huge role in contraceptive access. Unmarried women and teenagers in developing countries often can’t get a prescription for birth control for religious or social reasons. For other women, family members prevent them from getting the birth control they need. Simply put, many girls and women simply can’t access contraception because society makes them embarrassed to ask.
Free contraception means it’s always available, right? Wrong. The fact that birth control is often provided by governments in low resource settings can actually cause bigger supply issues.
Take Venezuela, for instance. When the Venezuelan government was flush with cash, it had no problem providing birth control to women.
But when the government’s money dried up, so did birth control. Local retailers were never incentivized to distribute birth control since their customers could get it for free, as a result, when the government stops supplying birth control, women lose access to contraception.
How mobile tech can help
Mobile technology can overcome many of the barriers to contraceptive access that women face. By 2019, over 2/3 of the world’s population will likely have a mobile device, and over half of those devices will be smartphones.
With mobile apps like Dot and CycleBeads, a woman who can’t get her hands on the pill, an injectable, an IUD, or even condoms, now has a contraceptive option right on her phone.
While we 100% want women to have good relationships with their healthcare providers, for women who have to take time off of work or find childcare so they can get to a clinic, an app gives them the power to be in charge of their reproductive health, right now - instead of waiting for their provider.
Additionally, an app makes a provider’s job easier. Instead of spending time training each and every female patient on how to use birth control, our suite of apps are simple and easy to use for every woman. They can also help a user track her cycle information and share that information more readily with her health provider.
And best of all? CycleBeads and Dot are both free. While not every woman has a smart phone, many of them do, and an app means they have a no-cost way to plan for or prevent pregnancy that doesn’t depend on the government, supply chains, or access to a clinic.
Learn more about Cycle Technologies' global impact.
"Barriers to Contraception and Interest In Over-the-Counter Access Among Low-Income Women: A Qualitative Study." Guttmacher Institute. January 17, 2018. Accessed March 15, 2018.
Beauchamp, Zack. "A Map of Everywhere the Pill Is Subsidized." Vox. June 30, 2014. Accessed March 15, 2018. https://www.vox.com/2014/6/30/5857904/where-the-pill-is-free.
"Number of Mobile Phone Users Worldwide 2013-2019." Statista. Accessed March 15, 2018. https://www.statista.com/statistics/274774/forecast-of-mobile-phone-users-worldwide/.
"The Technology That's Making a Difference in the Developing World." USGLC. Accessed March 15, 2018. http://www.usglc.org/blog/the-technology-thats-making-a-difference-in-the-developing-world/.
"Unmet Need for Contraception in Developing Countries: Examining Women's Reasons for Not Using a Method." Guttmacher Institute. July 08, 2016. Accessed March 15, 2018. https://www.guttmacher.org/report/unmet-need-for-contraception-in-developing-countries.