The demand for contraception is projected to grow worldwide from 900 million in 2010 to 962 million in 2015 because of an increased desire for modern family planning methods.

Increased investment in family planning will be required to meet the needs of the 233 million women projected to have an unmet need for modern contraceptive methods by 2015, a new survey has suggested.

Over 60 per cent of married women in the reproductive age use contraceptives now as against only 55 per cent in 1990, and unmet need for family planning also decreased from 15 per cent to 12 per cent, the study said. However, because of population growth and an increased global awareness of modern family planning methods, the total demand for contraception is projected to grow.

The study, published online first in The Lancet, was undertaken by researchers at the United Nations Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the National University of Singapore. It produced estimates of contraceptive prevalence (the proportion of women using contraception) and unmet need for contraceptives (the proportion of women who would like to delay or stop childbearing but who are not using any method of contraception to prevent pregnancy) in 194 countries between 1990 and 2010.

The researchers used available data on contraceptive prevalence and unmet need for family planning, and where relevant data on unmet need were not available, they modelled the relationship between contraceptive prevalence and unmet need and used information from other countries in the region.

The largest absolute increases in contraceptive prevalence (more than 15 percentage points) between 1990 and 2010 were in southern Asia and three subregions of Africa (eastern, northern, and southern Africa). However, in two subregions of Africa contraceptive prevalence still remained low: by 2010, fewer than one in five married women used any contraceptive method in central and western Africa.

Between 1990 and 2010, the reduction in unmet need for contraception was greatest in Central America and northern Africa, where it fell by 9 percentage points. Most countries experienced either stable rates of unmet need, or a reduction, yet more than 20 per cent of married women in eastern, central, and western Africa were estimated to still have an unmet need for family planning in 2010.

Worldwide, 146 million married women of reproductive age are estimated to have an unmet need for family planning in 2010, a figure which increases to 221 million, if women using traditional contraceptive methods are included.

The researchers estimated how many women were using modern methods of contraception such as hormonal contraception, compared to traditional methods like periodic abstinence or withdrawal. They found that the rise in contraceptive prevalence in the last 20 years was largely attributable to an increase in the uptake of modern contraceptive methods, with around nine out of 10 women worldwide estimated to use modern contraceptive methods in 2010.

According to author Dr. Ann Biddlecom, Fertility and Family Planning Section Chief at the United Nations Population Division: “Our model-based annual estimates and projections of family planning indicators and the degree of uncertainty around them provide the global health and development community with a better understanding of the progress made, the likely path ahead, and the payoffs that can be accrued by investment in family planning now.”

Unmarried women who are sexually active were not included in this study, but the researchers hope that an extended version of the current statistical model will provide better estimates of contraceptive prevalence and future unmet need in this population .