We need to talk about contraception.
Australian women are struggling with their family planning methods, a new study reports.
Commissioned by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA), the study found that only one in ten women use some form of long-lasting contraception – hormone injections, implants and IUDs – and some 600,000 emergency contraception pills were dispensed by pharmacies last year alone.
It is estimated that 200,000 unplanned pregnancies occur annually in Australia, resulting in about 80,000 terminations.
The majority of those unplanned pregnancies occurred while women were using contraception, whether that was non-hormonal short-term contraceptives like condoms or diaphragms, or long-term hormonal options, like the pill.
The contraceptive pill remains the most popular form of family planning in Australia, with 40% of women choosing it as their primary form of contraception. But the nature of the pill’s efficiency – requiring women to stringently take a tablet each day – leaves the door alarmingly open to the potential for human error.
“Use of the pill is high in Australia, however oral contraceptives rely entirely on the woman remembering to take a pill each day, which can make them less effective in the real-world than most people assume,” Dr Deborah Bateson, medical director at Family Planning NSW has said.
Long-term contraception is not only cheaper than the pill - $40 or $50 for an implant covered on Medicare that lasts for up to five years, whereas the pill can cost $10-$30 a month – it is also the only form on contraceptive that is not susceptible to human error (around 99.95% effective with typical use, as opposed to the pill’s 91%).
The problem is, women don’t seem think to that long-lasting contraception are reliable. The study found that 63% think they are trustworthy, leading to 77% of women preferring not to use them.
The answer, according to the AHHA, is to advocate for more awareness around long-lasting reversible contraception, with the establishment of a proposed education scheme both for medical professionals and Australian women.
Currently, most of these methods are covered inadequately by Medicare benefit schemes, and hospitals and clinics are understaffed by nurses who can insert and remove IUDs and other implants for women cost-efficiently and quickly. The AHHA would like to see more nurses employed in GP offices for this very reason.
Ultimately, it comes down to a question of choice. Having the widest possible variety of contraceptive methods available to women can only be a good thing. The next step will be ensuring that Australian women have as much information as possible about those choices.