Improving Adolescent Access to Contraception in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review of the Evidence

Julia Smith

Abstract

Global commitments to and support for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) have increased over the past 10 years. Adolescent access to contraception has emerged as a crucial area of focus within this agenda, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where there is the greatest unmet need for contraception. Yet there is little synthesized knowledge around adolescents’ use and knowledge of, and access to contraception in SSA. This review summarizes and analyzes literature on the subject in order to determine implications for policy and program development, and to guide future research. The majority of existing research focuses on South Africa, with numerous studies from East Africa also present. Most of this research is qualitative, with few mixed method studies, and only one randomized control trial of an intervention.  Findings from multiple countries confirm that adolescents in SSA have a significant unmet need for contraception. Most adolescents get their information about contraception from the media or peers. Persistent myths regarding effectiveness and side effects, as well as cultural and gender norms, impede access to and demand for contraception. Other determinants of access and use include education level and socio-economic status. As a result, intervention evaluations note that cultural barriers and socio-economic conditions limit SRH outcomes. (Afr J Reprod Health 2020; 24[1]: 152-164).

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