Unintended pregnancy puts mother, child at risk: WHO study

Representational image. | Photo Credit: AP
Bindu Shajan Perappadan New Delhi 28 October 2019 22:06 IST
Updated: 28 October 2019 22:58 IST

A new study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 36 countries found that two-thirds of sexually active women who wished to delay or limit childbearing stopped using contraception for the fear of side effects, health concerns and underestimation of the likelihood of conception. This led to one in four pregnancies being unintended.

Unintended pregnancies remain an important public health issue. Globally, 74 million women living in low and middle-income countries have unintended pregnancies annually. This leads to 25 million unsafe abortions and 47,000 maternal deaths every year.

WHO warns that unwanted pregnancies may lead to a wide range of health risks for the mother and child. The risks include malnutrition, illness, abuse and neglect, and even death. Unintended pregnancies can further lead to cycles of high fertility, as well as lower educational and employment potential and poverty – challenges which can span generations.


As per the figures published by international medical journal Lancet last year on the incidence of abortion and unintended pregnancy in India, it is estimated that 15.6 million abortions occurred in India in 2015.

“In India the abortion rate was 47 per 1,000 women aged 15-49 years. 3·4 million abortions (22%) were obtained in health facilities, 11·5 million (73%) abortions were medication abortions done outside of health facilities, and 0·8 million (5%) abortions were done outside of health facilities using methods other than medication abortion,” the study had said. In India, abortions accounted for one-third of all pregnancies, and nearly half of the pregnancies were unintended.

The WHO report stated that modern methods of contraception had a vital role in preventing unintended pregnancies. Mari Nagai, former medical officer for Reproductive and Maternal Health at WHO’s Western Pacific Regional Office and an author of the report, said that high-quality family planning offered a range of potential benefits that encompassed not only improved maternal and child health, but also social and economic development, education, and women’s empowerment.

The study’s findings highlighted the need for services that “take a shared decision-making approach to selecting and using effective methods of contraception that most fit the needs and preferences of clients, identify early when women and girls are having concerns about the method they are using and enable women and girls to change modern methods while remaining protected through effective counselling and respect of their rights and dignity.”

The WHO has recommended that overcoming legal, policy, social, cultural and structural barriers will enable more people to benefit from effective contraceptive services.