How A Simple Design Tweak Is Bringing Injectable Contraceptives To The Developing World

Injections of birth control that lasts three months and don’t require a lot of fuss could empower women who have never had family planning options before.

Injectable contraceptives like Depo-Provera are a popular alternative to birth control pills, which require patients to remember their medication every day instead of a handful of times per year. But in many parts of the developing world, medical providers don’t always have the supplies they need to deliver it–one month, perhaps the Depo-Provera has arrived but the syringes have not, and the next month, it may be the opposite problem.


Sayana Press, a new pre-filled injectable contraceptive that is a low-dose formulation of Depo-Provera and comes packaged with the needle, contraceptive, and an injection device all together, is ideal for these situations. The contraceptive, which offers three months of birth control per injection, is currently being piloted in Burkina Faso, where nearly one quarter of married women want (and lack) access to family planning options.

The international health organization PATH is coordinating a partnership to support the roll-out that includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Pfizer, and the United Nations Population Fund. In 2012 and 2013, PATH conducted Sayana Press accessibility studies in Uganda and Senegal, to see whether women would want to use it instead of traditional Depo-Provera delivery methods.

There are many reasons why they would. In addition to its all-in-one packaging, Sayana Press also features a small, thin needle that’s less painful than the intra-muscular injections that are usually given. “It’s smaller and less scary-looking,” says Sara Tifft, Senior Program Officer at PATH. “For health providers, they like the fact that it’s just easier to prepare. They don’t have to draw up the drug from a vial with a needle and syringe. It’s easier to administer, and easier to dispose of.”

And since the drug is packaged with everything needed to administer it, Sayana Press can be transported easily to community delivery sites. “It just plain creates more access points,” says Tifft.

In Burkina Faso, Sayana Press marks the first time that the Ministry of Health is permitting community-level deliveries of injectable contraceptives. The drug is also being rolled out in select sites throughout Senegal, Niger, and Uganda over the next 24 to 36 months. During the roll-out, PATH will collect data and report back to the Ministries of Health in all the countries–and if it goes well, Sayana Press will be introduced more widely in these countries, and perhaps in other countries as well.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.