Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

World Contraception Day: Emergency Contraception in the Caribbean

October 01, 2012

This blog is part of a series, edited by Women Deliver, in partnership with Impatient Optimists, on youth perspectives to celebrate World Contraception Day. Share your thoughts in comments and join the conversation at #WCD2012. For more stories and to get involved further visit No Controversy.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the rates of teenage pregnancy and HIV prevalence are quite high. The adolescent birth rate in Trinidad and Tobago is 33 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19, and there were 15,000 people living with HIV in 2009. Statistics show that at the end of 2009, an estimated 240,000 people were living with HIV in the Caribbean. Incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault are also shockingly commonplace. Because of these issues, emergency contraception is incredibly important to the lives of girls and women in Barbados.

There are many myths and misconceptions about emergency contraception (EC) that we need to overcome. It is important to know that EC should be taken to prevent pregnancy after unprotected or inadequately protected sex, but it does not end a pregnancy. EC works by disrupting ovulation, and it has no known medically serious complications. EC does not appear to be harmful if inadvertently taken in pregnancy, and it does not prevent you from becoming pregnant in the future. In fact, EC has the same components as normal birth control pills but in higher dosages. The levonorgestrel regimen, the most common regimen for emergency contraception, reduces pregnancy risk by at least half and possibly by as much as 80-90% for one act of unprotected intercourse. Generally, EC should be taken as soon as possible after the sex act, and is effective if taken within 5 days after sex.

Although EC does not protect against HIV/AIDS, it is an important method in allowing girls and women to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Lives are saved because women are not put in a position where they have to consider unsafe abortions. The state and governments can reduce costs because unintended pregnancies often have more complications and require increased health interventions. Above all, emergency contraception empowers women because it provides them with an opportunity to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights by planning their pregnancies. 

Furthermore, these rights were ratified by the following conventions which Trinidad and Tobago is signatory to:

  • Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – 1979
  • International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) – 1994
  • The Fourth World Conference on Women  - 1995

In keeping with the aforementioned conventions, government should take further steps to have EC included in the National Health Formulary. In doing so, EC would be made available in public health institutions and would be made accessible to all people including the very poor, young people, victims of rape and incest, as well as the rural population in Trinidad and Tobago.

There are contraception access limitations due to locality, cost and availability, but we are still fortunate enough to be able to purchase EC over the counter without a medical prescription in Trinidad and Tobago. There have been significant efforts to restrict access to emergency contraception in other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. If caught with EC in Honduras, for example, it can be considered an abortion attempt with a prison term of up to 6 years if found guilty.

EC can be used as often as needed. However, deliberate use of EC as a regular, routine contraceptive method is not recommended because more effective methods exist for this purpose. But it is an important contraceptive method that can be used especially in incidences of unprotected intercourse or when routine contraception fails. It must be made clear though that several medical studies around the globe have deemed emergency contraception as a safe, effective method of birth control.

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