Photo: SEWA BHATTARAI
Although Nepal’s contraceptive prevalence rate has increased dramatically, from 7% in 1981 to nearly 60% today, social taboos, patriarchy and unavailability mean that many women still do not have access to birth control.
It usually falls on women to take the initiative, since many men refuse to use condoms or get a vasectomy. Popular contraceptives used to be the pill or Depo-Provera, an injectable that needs refrigeration and must be taken at a clinic, but the dosage is high and the injection painful.
Now, women like Shanti Adhikari, 43, in Chitwan, (pictured, right) who have always used Depo-provera for short-term contraception, have a new choice: Sayana Press.
Adhikari’s husband, who works as a security guard in India, will be coming home for Dasain, so she is at the health post in Nawalpur for her Depo-Provera progesterone hormone injection, which prevents pregnancy for three months.
But auxiliary nurse midwife Sharada Rimal (pictured, above) tells her about Sayana Press. Its advantages over Depo-Provera are that it comes with its own small needle, the dosage is much smaller, it is less painful and can be self-injected.
“Everyone in my neighbourhood comes to this health post for contraceptives, but no one told me about this new injection. The needle looks much smaller, I think I will go with this one,” says Adhikari, 43, as Rimal proceeded to inject her in the thigh.
Sayana Press, a successor to Depo-Provera, is being launched in Nepal in two districts: Nawalpur and Sindhuli, by the reproductive health agency Ipas Nepal in coordination with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Ministry of Health and Population (MoH). The drug has already been tried and approved, and is available for use in 40 European countries.
What sets Sayana apart from Depo-Provera is the smaller dosage (104 mg compared to 150), it comes with its own needle, it can be stored at room temperature and is injected sub-cutaneously (just under the skin), rather than in the muscles like Depo-Provera.
Injectable contraceptives are the most popular reversible contraceptive among women, for a variety of reasons. Adhikari says she does not like pills because she has to remember to take them every day, and, because of her age, she wants to be discreet about using them.
While most other methods, like IUCDs, implants, condoms and pills, are visible and can be discovered by others, an injection leaves no traces. 52% married couples use contraceptives in Nepal: 8.9% use injectables, 4.6% are on pills, 4.2% use condoms, 1.4% use IUDs and only 3.3% use implants. 9.8% use other traditional methods. Some have gone for permanent contraception, with 14.7% preferring female Sterilization and 5.5% male Sterilization.
“Depo-Provera has been in use for 50 years, but it was so popular and effective not much further research was done on it,” explains Lhamo Yangchen Sherpa of Ipas. “But WHO studies found that a much lower dosage was enough.”
Health workers like Rimal confirm that Sayana Press is much easier to inject, more portable and less painful. Though it is self-injectable in some countries, in Nepal, where it has been undergoing trials in 14 health facilities of Nawalpur and Sindhuli since 5 September, it will only be administered by health professionals.
Bhim Singh Tinkari of the MoH Family Welfare Division says that since 7% of pregnant women still die from unsafe abortions, making contraceptives easily accessible can save lives. Binod Bindu Sharma of the MoH links contraceptives to women’s choice and empowerment. “The availability of contraceptives is important for women’s rights, since it lets women choose when and how many children to have,” says Sharma, adding that the ministry is making Sayana Press available for free in health facilities.
Lisa Honan, head of DFID Nepal, links contraceptives with women’s economic potential, adding that the country can make better use of women in the workforce if they have better choices of contraceptives. “DFID is committed to providing Sayana in any volume in Nepal until 2022 through UNFPA (the UN Population Fund), and would help Nepal scale it up all over the country if the results of the feasibility study are positive.”
Source: Nepali times. September 2019. Sewa Bhattarai. Available at: https://www.nepalitimes.com/here-now/nepal-far-from-hitting-contraceptive-target/