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Pharma Company Plans To Bring Affordable Birth Control To Developing Countries

Women discuss contraception in Bangladesh, one of the countries where the Sayana Press is already used. CREDIT: AP IMAGES — PAVEL RAHMAN
Women discuss contraception in Bangladesh, one of the countries where the Sayana Press is already used. CREDIT: AP IMAGES — PAVEL RAHMAN

Pfizer and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are working together to bring affordable injectable contraception to up 225 million women in over 60 countries who do not have access to birth control. The plan will target countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Under the plan, Pfizer will expand the distribution of the Sayana Press, a version of Depo-Provera which requires lower doses to be effective. The Sayana Press currently costs $1.50 a dose, but due to subsidies from the Gates Foundation and other groups such as the United States Agency for International Development, it will now cost less than a dollar for the women who use it.

Unlike the generic Depo-Provera shot, the injection from the Sayana Press can be preformed at home, allowing women to use contraception without having to travel to a health clinic every few months. This method was introduced in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Bangladesh at the beginning of this summer.

Access to birth control is a big issue for women in many developing countries. Between 2003 and 2012, the number of women who wanted contraception to prevent pregnancies rose to 867 million from 716 million — but the supply isn’t keeping up with the demand. It’s estimated that by 2015, more than 230 million women will not have access to birth control. According to the Gates Foundation, less than 20 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa and less than a third of women in South Asia regularly use modern contraception. This lack of access could have serious health consequences. An estimated 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions alone each year, while around 800 women die from pregnancy complications every day.

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Pfitzer and the Gates Foundation’s partnership is not the first attempt to make reproductive health more accessible in developing countries. In 2013, two pharmaceutical companies dropped the price of their HPV vaccine to $4.50 a dose to make it more accessible to women in poor countries. In 2012, Bayer cut the price of its contraception implants in half for 27 million women in developing countries. Earlier this year, the Gates Foundation donated over $4 million to fund the creation of implantable contraception that would last 16 years.