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Bull World Health Organ. 2011 Feb 1;89(2):137-43. doi: 10.2471/BLT.10.077925. Epub 2010 Nov 4.

Family planning in sub-Saharan Africa: progress or stagnation?

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Department for Population Studies, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, England.



To review progress towards adoption of contraception among married or cohabiting women in western and eastern Africa between 1991 and 2004 by examining subjective need, approval, access and use.


Indicators of attitudes towards and use of contraception were derived from Demographic and Health Surveys, which are nationally representative and yield internationally comparable data. Trends were examined for 24 countries that had conducted at least two surveys between 1986 and 2007.


In western Africa, the subjective need for contraception remained unchanged; about 46% of married or cohabiting women reported a desire to stop and/or postpone childbearing for at least two years. The percentage of women who approved of contraception rose from 32 to 39 and the percentage with access to contraceptive methods rose from 8 to 29. The proportion of women who were using a modern method when interviewed increased from 7 to 15% (equivalent to an average annual increase of 0.6 percentage points). In eastern African countries, trends were much more favourable, with contraceptive use showing an average annual increase of 1.4 percentage points (from 16% in 1986 to 33% in 2007).


In western Africa, progress towards adoption of contraception has been dismally slow. Attitudinal resistance remains a barrier and access to contraceptives, though improving, is still shockingly limited. If this situation does not change radically in the short run, the United Nations population projections for this subregion are likely to be exceeded. In eastern Africa, the prospects for a future decline in fertility are much more positive.

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