Contraceptive Implants: Safe, Effective, and Popular

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By: Roy Jacobstein, Medical Director, EngenderHealth

The following post is also published on the Global Health Council blog

Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that nearly 600 UK women had become pregnant while using Implanon, a contraceptive implant that is inserted beneath the surface of the skin. The January 5 article alarmed many women, who questioned whether their implants—known to be more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy—are actually working.

The reports of unplanned pregnancies among Implanon users elicited both substantial interest and dismay. Contraceptive failure, particularly with highly effective methods such as implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs), female sterilization, and vasectomy, is rare and unexpected. But no method, even sterilization, is 100% effective. When properly inserted, however, the success rate of Implanon ® and other hormonal implants (Jadelle®) has been proven to be greater than 99%—far exceeding the effectiveness of either oral contraceptive pills or condoms.

While the investigation in the United Kingdom is still ongoing, it appears that the errors likely occurred months or years before—at the clinic where health practitioners may have improperly inserted the device. If it is the case that provider error is responsible (either clients were already pregnant at the time of insertion or the device was improperly inserted), these unfortunate events only reinforce the critical importance of quality training for health professionals tasked with inserting implants or other contraceptive devices. Clinics providing implants must maintain robust training standards and curricula for correctly inserting and removing implants to ensure that clients, whether in London or Lomé, receive the highest quality of care possible.

But regardless of the investigation’s outcome, the fact remains that Implanon is a very safe, effective, and popular method of contraception. Millions of women choose implants because they are highly effective and easy to use. Like other long-acting contraceptive methods (e.g. IUDs), Implanon is quickly reversible with prompt return to fertility and is very convenient in that it doesn’t require women to remember to take daily pills or to convince their partners to use condoms in order to prevent pregnancy. But it does require the skill of a well-trained health professional.

Since the Guardian story was published, several health service providers have issued statements clarifying the sources of the failures and advising women on where to seek help if they are concerned about their implants. It is also very important to keep these reports in context: More than 1.3 million units of Implanon have been prescribed in the United Kingdom since 1999, and the number of failures reported to date, regardless of cause, was less than 600. Globally, Implanon is also an increasingly popular method. For more information on what EngenderHealth is doing to promote long-acting family planning methods in countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Bangladesh, visit our web site.