Almost 225 million women worldwide looking to keep from becoming pregnant do not have access to a feasible birth control method, a problem especially prevalent in low- and middle-income regions of the world. Now researchers think that a new birth control drug that women can inject on their own might help.
A new study found that a self-injectable contraceptive method, manufactured by Pfizer and developed by the health nonprofit PATH, shows great promise in Uganda, where women give birth to two more children than they'd want on average, according to Guttmacher Institute. Data from 2011 shows that over four in 10 births within the sub-Saharan country are unplanned.
After nearly 400 women were trained to self-administer the drug, called Sayana Press, through single-use syringes, 88 percent were deemed competent in the practice three months later. Almost ever woman who partook in the study wanted to continue using it.
The evolution of birth control
The evolution of birth control
Closeup still life of Zorane tablets, a series of low-estrogen birth control pills. Shown are three packs, one open, two closed. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Various big posters were hoisted in Saint Peter's Square by a group of persons favoring artificial birth control, as Pope Paul VI appeared in the central balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica to read his Easter message to the world and impart his blessing "Urbi et Orbi" (Over the City of Rome and the World) March 26, 1967. The huge poster in center reads: "Yes to the pill", while others read: "No to Abortion." (AP-PHOTO)
13th August 1968: Father Paul Weir expounds on his refusal to quit the Catholic church in the St Cecilia Presbytery in North Cheam. Father Paul, 31, was suspended from his duties because he disagrees with the Pope's ruling on birth control. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Birth control advocate Bill Baird, center, and Carol Morreale, left, as they led a demonstration outside the Immaculate Conception Church, Aug. 18, 1974 in Marlboro, Mass., protesting the denial of the baptismal sacrament to 3-month-old Nathaniel Morreale. Carol Morreale, the child's mother has publicly advocated that women be given the right to choose whether they will have an abortion. (AP Photo)
A woman holds a birth control pill dispenser indicating the day of the week in New York in August 1974. Though medical trials for the oral contraceptive started in the late 1950s, Enovid was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. The sexual revolution was born. Known as "The Pill," it changed the balance of hormones estrogen and progesterone in women to prevent pregnancy. It was invented by Dr. Gregory Pincus and Dr. John Rock with the support of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. (AP Photo/Jerry Mosey)
FILE - This May 28, 1999, file photo shows a new birth control pill container designed to look like a woman's makeup compact for Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Inc., of Raritan, N.J., displayed at the manufacturer's assembly line. More than half of privately insured women are getting free birth control due to President Barack Obamaâs health care law, part of a big shift thatâs likely to continue despite the Supreme Court allowing some employers with religious objections to opt out. (AP Photo/Mike Derer, File)
Graphic shows the Implanon implant, with contraceptive use stats among women ages 15-44. (AP Graphic)
Graphic shows preferred method of birth control for women by age; 1c x 3 1/2 inches; 46.5 mm x 88.9 mm
Chart shows failure rate of popular female contraceptives
Graphic shows the annual cost of the most effect birth control methods
Individually packaged hand-knitted uteri are placed on a countertop at the lobby of the State Capitol in Phoenix, Thursday, April 5, 2012. Critics of an Arizona proposal to limit birth control gave more than a dozen state lawmakers the personalized gift. The packages were delivered each in a clear plastic bag, labeled with a lawmakerâs name and containing a letter from a Tempe woman asking legislators to oppose the measure. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)
FILE - In this May 2, 2013 photo, pharmacist Simon Gorelikov holds a generic emergency contraceptive, also called the morning-after pill, at the Health First Pharmacy in Boston. The plaintiffs in a legal battle over emergency contraceptives say in a letter Wednesday June 12, 2013, the government has failed to comply with a New York judge's order to lift all restrictions on sales of the drug. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
A group of people organized by the NYC Light Brigade and the women's rights group UltraViolet, use letters in lights to spell out their opinion, in front of the Supreme Court, Monday, March 24, 2014, in Washington. Holding the "H" in "Hands" is Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. The Supreme Court is weighing whether corporations have religious rights that exempt them from part of the new health care law that requires coverage of birth control for employees at no extra charge. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Margot Riphagen of New Orleans, La., wears a birth control pills costume as she protests in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 25, 2014, as the court heard oral arguments in the challenges of President Barack Obama's health care law requirement that businesses provide their female employees with health insurance that includes access to contraceptives. Supreme Court justices are weighing whether corporations have religious rights that exempt them from part of the new health care law that requires coverage of birth control for employees at no extra charge. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(Photo via Getty)
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While the idea of self-injecting might seem foreign to Americans, it may be less of a leap in Uganda, where injectable birth control is the most common method used in today, according to a U.N. study. There, more than half of the female population using any method of birth control uses an injectable form, like Depo-Provera. Sayana Press can be injected just under the skin with relative ease, unlike Depo-Provera which must be injected into the muscle by another person.
"This pioneering research is important not only for the women of Uganda, but for all women," Anthony K. Mbonye, a Uganda health official and co-investigator of the study, said in a press release. "The evidence that women can self-inject safely and successfully can help inform family planning program decision-making in countries around the world."
In addition to being relatively easy to self-administer, the drug is reportedly low-cost and delivered directly to the women by volunteers. This approach can help women control their own reproductive schedules, which is usually a challenge given the difficulty of accessing clinics that provide family planning and abortion services (not to mention that the clinics are often unsafe) and cultural stigma surrounding contraceptive use.
In Uganda, as in many countries, the ability to discretely use birth control empowers women. One nurse tasked with teaching women how to inject the drug recently told Refinery 29 that many husbands believe family planning usage makes women barren.
Sayana Press is already available in some parts of Africa, first coming to Brukina Faso back in 2014 (though it wasn't self-injectable at the time). Since then, nearly 500,000 doses of the drug have been administered in Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, and Uganda. Now its backers are seeking regulatory approvals in several countries so that women can administer it themselves.