Reducing unintended pregnancy rates: how innovation in contraception can drive generational change

Dr Charlotte Owens from Organon explores the impact of innovations in contraception and how this can reduce unintended pregnancy rates
Research shows that if women were to participate in the workforce at the same rate as men, as much as $28trn could be added to the global GDP by 2025.1 Despite this potential, globally, women are still less likely to engage in the labour market than men and bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid childcare and household work.2
A factor that may be contributing to this disparity is the high rate of unintended pregnancies worldwide, with nearly 50% of all pregnancies each year unplanned.3 The potential health risks and impact on educational and employment opportunities for both mothers and children may perpetuate life-long challenges, including those that can span generations.3 Contraceptive access and choice are not just a matter of health – they are a cornerstone of women’s economic empowerment – and the industry should commit to working to eliminate barriers that women and girls face, enabling them to take control of their futures and determine when and whether to have children. There are several areas where focused interventions could have a profound and lasting impact on future generations.

Innovating to expand contraceptive options and access through education and technology

One way to help address unintended pregnancies is by expanding the full spectrum of contraceptive options available. The past few decades have seen advancements in innovation with the introduction of a broader array of birth control options, including long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs).4 Yet, historically, the pace of innovation in contraceptive technology has lagged, leaving many women with options that may not be suited to their health needs, lifestyles or preferences.5
Dr Owens participating in a women’s health roundtable
Investing in research and development focused on creating a broader menu of safe and effective contraceptive methods can help women access the right method for her unique needs.
The potential for innovation extends even further, including the use of digital technology to help women and girls understand the choices available to them. In Latin America, there has been great success with direct-to-public digital tools, this could include apps or chatbots aimed at young women that provide contraceptive counselling utilising World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines in friendly, easily understood terms in English, Spanish and Portuguese – and there is potential to expand programmes like this to other geographies. Social media can also be used to reach more patients to help them understand their contraceptive options in countries like Thailand, where local medical affairs teams have partnered with a well-known Thai influencer to release a song on Instagram and TikTok about comprehensive contraceptive options that is both engaging and based on scientifically sound information. The project, called “music edutainment,” has been an effective way to provide medically accurate data in many of the online communities rife with misand disinformation about health topics like contraception.

Collaborating to create and implement policy solutions

Innovation in product development and expansion of access must be matched by innovation in policy. Stakeholders from across the public and private sectors should work together to create and implement policies that prioritise reproductive education, choice and access. The APEC Smart Families Menu of Policy Options for Demographic Resilience is a prime example of how collaboration between the private sector, policymakers and NGOs can result in meaningful solutions that support public health goals. In addition, the private sector can lead through example by creating progressive workplace policies, including expanding leave and benefits, and implementing flexible work arrangements that promote equality and work-life balance.

Exploring sustainable financing in women’s health

Despite the economic benefits of investing in solutions to combat unintended pregnancy, traditional funding models often fall short in meeting the scale of investment required for meaningful progress.6,7 Exploring sustainable financing mechanisms that prioritise investments with measurable outcomes that benefit society, offers a viable solution to address budget constraints and catalyse progress.7 With sustainable financing, capital can be mobilised towards initiatives that might not otherwise receive adequate support.7 Although sustainable financing in women’s health remains relatively untapped, initiatives underway in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Thailand, Kenya and South Africa are starting to make significant strides.8 These programmes, which focus on enhancing access to sexual and reproductive health education and services, are setting the groundwork for broader impact.

Reaching high-need communities

Community-driven interventions play a pivotal role in reducing unintended pregnancies by tailoring solutions to meet the unique needs of local populations.9 For example, some companies have initiatives that are engaging directly with communities to gather insights into the specific barriers women face in accessing reproductive health services and contraception. They are then able to allocate resources to support communities so they can implement actionable solutions tailored to address specific challenges they’re facing, and through stakeholder engagement they can create more sustainable programming. Enhancing provider education on the full range of contraceptive options.
Finally, to ensure that women can truly benefit from innovations in contraception, healthcare providers, including primary care physicians and nurse practitioners – who often provide care in areas facing shortages of OBGYNs – should be informed about the range of options available, as well as be provided with ongoing education and training.10 Ensuring providers are well-equipped with this knowledge will enable them to offer informed, personalised counselling to their patients, helping patients choose the contraceptive method that best aligns with their needs and preferences.
The path to reducing unintended pregnancy rates is complex, but it is also filled with opportunity. By embracing innovation in contraceptive access, education and development, creating supportive policies, exploring new financing mechanisms and community-driven interventions, and enhancing provider education, we can make significant strides toward empowering women and girls to take control of their reproductive health. This, in turn, will unlock broader social and economic benefits, driving generational change and creating a more equitable world for all.
  1. Woetzel L, Madgavkar A, Ellingrud K, et al. How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth. McKinsey & Company; 2015.
  2. Visit: unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures
  3. Visit: unfpa.org/swp2022
  4. Shoupe D. LARC methods: entering a new age of contraception and reproductive health. Contracept Reprod Med. 2016;1(1). doi:10.1186/s40834-016- 0011-8
  5. Chamberlain SG, Vogelsong KM, Weinberger M, Serazin E, Cairns-Smith S, Gerrard SE. Reboot contraceptives research – it has been stuck for decades. Nature. 2020;587(7835):543-545. doi:10.1038/d41586-020-03287-0
  6. Finer LB, Zolna MR. Declines in unintended pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011. NEngl J Med. 2016;374(9):843-852. doi:10.1056/ nejmsa1506575
  7. Atun R, Silva S, & Knaul FM (2017). Innovative financing instruments for global health 2002-15: a systematic analysis. The Lancet. Global Health, 5(7), e720-e726. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2214109X(17)30198-5
  8. Visit: organon.com/news/organon-and-caf-developmentbank-of-latin-america-launch-firstof-its-kind-collaboration-to-increasesustainable-financing-in-womens-health/
  9. Mohamed S, Chipeta MG, Kamninga T et al. Interventions to prevent unintended pregnancies among adolescents: a rapid overview of systematic reviews. Syst Rev 12, 198 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-023-02361-8
  10. Yecies E, Borrero S. Patient-Centered Contraceptive Counseling. In: Sexand Gender-Based Women’s Health. Springer International Publishing; 2020:53-69.

Charlotte Owens MD FACOG is currently the senior vice president and head of Global Medical Affairs & Outcomes Research at Organon. Dr Owens is responsible for the medical strategy and support of marketed and pipeline products, including outcomes research. Dr Owens has over a decade of experience in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, more than 20 years as a practising, board-certified OB/GYN and a global lens to sustainably improving health equity and delivering patient care.