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Non-contraceptive benefits of Family Planning

Contraception, commonly known as Family Planning, has been in existence for over 50 years. Most contraceptive choices concentrate on women, but novel male contraceptives are on the horizon.

The main reason for contraceptive use is to prevent unintended or ill-timed pregnancies. This in turn reduces the need for unsafe abortions, especially in countries where this is illegal. But contraceptive use does much more than just prevent pregnancies, added health benefits have been observed since the 1960s.

From a public health perspective, there is an associated decrease in maternal deaths with improved contraceptive use, more so in countries where maternal deaths are highest. Long-acting and permanent methods confer the greatest benefits in reduction of pregnancy-related maternal deaths. Spaced births translate into better maternal health and good quality of life. Reduction in early childhood deaths follows as a consequence. Planned families enable parents to cater for their children’s nutrition and schooling needs more affordably.

Hormonal contraceptives come in various forms: pills, implants, injections, skin patches and intra-uterine devices. They are highly effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies, and equally have a long list of non-contraceptive benefits.

Many menstrual problems are ameliorated by use of hormonal contraceptives. Painful, heavy and irregular periods, together with the dreaded pre-menstrual symptoms all fair better whilst on hormonal contraception. Such improvements in abnormal bleeding patterns serve as alternatives to traditional surgical treatments, like hysterectomy. There is also improvement of acne, better bone health and less risk of non-cancerous breast disease and ovarian cysts. The risk of pelvic inflammatory disease is lower, and if the disease develops, it’s usually less severe.

Hormonal contraceptives also confer a substantial reduction in the risk of cancers of the ovaries and uterine lining (endometrial cancer). There is also perhaps a reduction in the risk of cancer of the large intestines (colorectal cancer). This benefit appears to last even up to 10 years after stopping hormonal contraceptive use.

Barrier contraception methods include male and female condoms. They are highly effective in reducing the risks of sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea. There is also reduction in the risk of HIV transmission, and exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is associated with cervical cancer. Indeed individuals with multiple sex partners, like adolescents and sexual workers, can accrue dual benefits by additionally using barrier methods regardless of being on other contraceptives. Such an approach dramatically reduces the risks of both unwanted pregnancy and sexual infections.

What about undesired side effects? Modern contraceptive choices are so varied that every individual is bound to find a method that suits both their medical profiles and lifestyle. The benefits of a well-chosen contraceptive far outweigh any potential untoward effects. Every woman (and man) should be able to find a contraceptive that is easy to use, easily accessible, affordable and tolerable.

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