WHO updates recommendations to guide family planning decisions


Nov.,15, the World Health Organization (WHO) released important updates to its landmark Family Planning Handbook, which provides health workers and policy makers with the most current information on contraceptive options.

Drawing on lessons from recent outbreaks, this new edition details tangible measures for frontline health workers to protect access to family planning services during emergencies, such as wider access to self-administered contraceptives and the use of digital technologies by providers. It also expands guidance for women and young people at high risk of HIV.

“Family planning promotes self-actualisation, empowerment, as well as health and wellbeing, and reduces maternal and infant deaths through the prevention of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion,” said Dr Pascale Allotey, WHO’s Director for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. “This updated Family Planning Handbook is a vital resource, helping health workers support contraceptive users around the world in making informed choices about the right contraceptive options for them.”

Experience from recent outbreaks shows that family planning services can be severely compromised during emergencies. During the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, approximately 70% of countries reported disruptions to these vital services - intensifying risks of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

To help avoid such outcomes in the future, the manual details practical measures that support continuity of family planning services during epidemics. These include wider access to self-administered contraceptives, and direct distribution of contraceptives through pharmacies. Health practitioners can also take steps to support ongoing contraceptive access even where physical mobility is reduced, such as providing multi-month supplies.

Self-administered contraceptives include condoms, contraceptive pills, some diaphragms, spermicides and most recently, the option of self-injection of DMPA (a progestin-only contraceptive) since this can now be safely administered just under the skin rather than into the muscle. Many women prefer injectable contraceptives since they are private and non-intrusive, requiring action only ever 2-3 months, with the option of self-injection likely to further increase uptake.

“The updated recommendations in this Handbook show that almost any family planning method can be used safely by all women, and that accordingly, all women should have access to a range of options that meet their unique needs and goals in life,” said Dr. Mary Gaffield, Scientist and lead author of the Handbook. “Family planning services can be provided safely and affordably so that no matter where they live, couples and individuals are able to choose from safe and effective family planning methods.”

Source: World Health Organization