Dr. Mengistu Asnake has spent the past 25 years working to increase contraceptive access for women in Ethiopia — and has seen a startling change in how women use birth control.
In the early 2000s, the Ethiopian government began to train and employ thousands of women to do something incredibly important: deliver effective, modern birth control straight to women’s doorsteps. The results, Asnake says, are astounding: Ethiopia’s use of modern contraceptives has essentially tripled over a decade.
What’s more, women in Ethiopia are having fewer children (the fertility rate fell from an average of 6.5 children per woman in 2000 to 4.6 currently), maternal deaths are in decline, and more women are staying in school longer. Plus, more women are opting for long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) instead of more traditional short-term methods like birth control pills or condoms.
“If you asked me 15 years ago, there were only 600 health centers and all in very urban areas, but today there are more than 3,500.” said Asnake. “And the health extension program started as a pilot program but now reaches every rural village in the country.”
Numerous countries, in the developed and developing world, are working to increase women’s access to better contraceptives. And Ethiopia’s experience could prove instructive in showing what works in reducing obstacles to birth control. Health workers there know the important role access to local health care providers plays in increasing knowledge around family planning while simultaneously removing barriers.