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50 years of the Pill: Appeal for success

By Sola Ogundipe
IF Nancy  had not gone on the Pill, she would probably still be having children at the age of 50. If  Ronke was not on the Pill, she would not have spaced her children so evenly. If Jane was not on the Pill, she would have had another unsafe abortion.

If this, if that. The list of “ifs” was almost inexhaustible as women from different circles of life  testified about the benefits of the famous birth control  Pill which turned 50 last Saturday May 9.

A random survey of Nigerian women indicated that in terms of popularity and effectiveness, the Pill is well accepted whether or not a woman is married.

Take 48-year-old Nancy, a Lagos-based top business executive and mother of five. “When I got married at the age of 22, I planned to have just three children, but they came in such rapid succession and with such ease.

“Before I realised it, lo and behold, I had popped out four (three girls and a boy) in only a matter of years! I never realised I was so fertile. Thank goodness for the Pill. It came to my rescue.”

Nancy who had her fifth baby six years ago has been taking birth control Pills for over two decades and does not intend to stop. “For me, stopping is out of the question. If I did that, you’d most likely hear that I’ve given birth to my sixth child. Now a 50-year-old nursing mother is something I have no intention of becoming,” she assured with a wink.

Thirty-three-year-old Ronke’s own story is even more intriguing. Ronke’s birth date is June 11. Her three daughters – Edith, Edna and Esther, are aged seven, five and three respectively. Edith and Edna share the same birthday – June 10  -even though they were born  two years apart. Esther who was born two years after Edna celebrates her own birthday on June 9.

Ronke, a Staff Nurse/Midwife attributes the uncanny birth arrangement of her daughters to the Pill. “I’m a health provider and having been on the Pill  myself years before I started having children, you could say I had a natural  understanding about the way it works. The Pill has always worked for me and always will.”

Jane who once had an unsafe abortion says she will never travel that path again because she is now on the Pill and in complete control of her own fertility. “I was not in control at that time, but that story is for another day. Now I am in control. The Pill has put me in control. That’s what matters.”

Such was the confidence with which several women  the world over heralded the 50th anniversary of the birth control Pill.

Fifty years after its approval as contraceptive in the United States of America, the birth control Pill remains as unique as ever.

In a statement released to mark the event, Women Deliver depicts the golden anniversary with an all-day symposium on reproductive health technology tagged “50 Years after the Pill — The Revolution Continues”.

Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver, notes: “When a woman is able to manage her fertility, she is better able to manage her life and to realise her full potential as a human being,” said he conference taking place in June that will call on leaders to invest an additional $12 billion in maternal health each year.

“This has tremendous positive implications for her family, her community, and her country, and is a solid cost-effective solution to maternal deaths worldwide. The advent of the birth control pill in the US sparked a revolution. We must support the continuation of the revolution for women worldwide, by ensuring affordable access to contraceptives for all individuals.”

At the Women Deliver conference billed for June 7-9 in Washington, DC, soon after psychosexual therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General, Dr. Nafis Sadik declare the symposium open, reproductive health experts will be gathered to discuss the social, economic, and health benefits of modern contraceptives, in addition to where availability has fallen short for women in much of the developing world.

According to the statement, access to contraceptives is a critical step to reducing unintended pregnancies, and maternal death and disability worldwide. “While in the 50 years since the Pill was approved more than 200 million women have used it, still more than 200 million women worldwide need or want access to contraceptives, but do not have it.

Recent studies have shown that if this unmet need for contraceptives was addressed, more than 50 million unintended pregnancies a year could be averted, amounting to 150,000 women’s and 640,000 newborn lives saved.

Ensuring access to family planning for women and their families has myriad social, health, and economic benefits. For instance, a US$1 investment in family planning services has a US$1.40 return in medical cost savings.

It was gathered that during Women Deliver’s one-day technology symposium attendees will journey from 1960 to 2010 and beyond, exploring the biomedical, public health and social and cultural dimensions of modern contraception.

The symposium will look ahead to the future of reproductive health technology more broadly, including the use of microbicides as a method of women-initiated HIV prevention, new methods of cervical cancer screening, the use of mobile phones, and low-technology ways to prevent post-childbirth bleeding.


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