vaginal_ringThe World Health Organization has included the progesterone contraceptive vaginal ring (CVR) on its 2015 Essential Medicines List.

Developed by the Population Council, this contraception method is unique because it is safe and effective for lactating women after they have given birth. It can be used as early as four weeks after childbirth for up to one year in order to space out potential future births.

Birth spacing is important for the health of mother and child. Maternal death and other health complications are more likely to arise with short intervals between births. In addition, family planning can help parents to plan finances related to family expansion. Family planning is critical to poverty reduction. When families do not have the knowledge or ability to space births, particularly in developing countries, they may also lack the resources to support these children.

The vaginal ring is 98.5 percent effective in preventing pregnancy with proper use. The ring can be inserted and removed by the mother. This translates to less doctor visits, which are known to strain family resources, such as time and money, in developing countries.

The ring releases progesterone, but does not interfere with breast milk production. In this way, it is unlike oral contraceptives, which contain estrogen and cannot be used by lactating women.

This method is currently used in Bolivia, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, and Peru. Currently, studies in India and Sub-Saharan Africa are underway in order to determine if it could be effective in these regions as well.

The inclusion of this method on the list from the World Health Organization’s list suggests that it is likely to be more accessible to communities in the near future. The CVR is effective, safe, and inexpensive. Medical services can be difficult to reach in developing countries, but the CVR places very few demands on doctors.

The Population Council is currently developing another vaginal ring that will not have to be replaced every 3 months. It would last for one year. This would make this contraceptive method even more appropriate for the developing world.

In the future, we may even see vaginal rings that can protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, in addition to its contraceptive function. This exciting new technology has the potential to address many of the global health problems our world faces today.

Iliana Lang

Sources: WHO, Population Council, Impatient Optimists
Photo: Impatient Optimists