By Sarah Newey
Condoms, implants and the pill are among the contraceptives being rapidly embraced by women and girls in Africa, according to a major report tracking family planning in developing countries.
Since 2012 roughly 53 million women and girls have started to use modern forms of family planning in 69 of the poorest countries across the globe.
It means that 314 million women and girls – out of 926 million of childbearing age – are now using modern birth control rather than traditional methods (such as abstinence and withdrawal) or nothing at all.
But it is in eastern and southern Africa that the gains have been greatest, according to the organisation Family Planning 2020 (FP2020).
The region has seen a seven percent rise in use of modern birth control over as many years, compared to a global average of just two percent.
The report flags Mozambique as being “consistently the fastest growing country” – around 2.6 million women are now using modern methods of contraception in the East African nation.
“East African countries have seen high growth in contraceptive use,” Beth Schlachter, director of FP2020, told The Telegraph. “This is in part because they started at lower levels of use and therefore had a greater opportunity to grow.
“It is also due to the political commitment of governments and the willingness to quickly improve service availability.
“Many African countries are now offering more long- and short-term methods and contraceptives, reducing barriers and facilitating solutions provided by health communities, health care workers and offering solutions for self-care such as the injection,” she added.
Africa is already the world’s youngest continent – with roughly almost 60 percent of people in the region under the age of 25 and a booming birth rate – and experts believe that family planning will be central to future development.
“When women can decide if, when and with whom to have children, lives are saved and health is improved,” said Katja Iversen, president and CEO of the advocacy group Women Deliver.
“Access to modern contraception is fundamental for gender equality and a smart investment in prosperity and progress both [for] the individual, for families and societies,” she added.
But while Africa has seen the greatest growth, the percentage of women using contraception is higher in Asia – where 38 percent of women of reproductive age use contraception.
This compares to roughly 25 percent in Eastern and Southern Africa.
The report, launched at a major conference on reproductive health in Nairobi, marks the culmination of a seven-year program by FP2020, which was unveiled at the London Summit on Family Planning in 2012.
The organization – a partnership between the United Nations and the UK and US governments – had an ambitious plan to encourage an extra 120 million women and girls to use modern contraception by 2020.
While the target has been missed – with less than half of these people reached – FP2020 say that the gains are still around 30 percent higher than the rates that were predicted before the partnership began.
The report includes 41 countries in Africa, 21 in Asia and Oceania, four in Latin America and the Caribbean and three in the Middle East.
Benoit Kalasa, director of the technical division at UNFPA (the UN’s reproductive health agency), added: “The release of FP2020’s report offers a robust, evidence-based picture on the progress we are seeing – and the challenges that remain – in countries with the highest unmet need for family planning.”
He told The Telegraph that progress in Africa was in part due to positive signals from lower- and middle-income countries that they are ready and willing to finance their own family planning budgets – rather than relying on donor funding.