South Africa faces shortage of contraceptives, warns Rural Doctors Association

South Africa faces a shortage of contraceptives in public health facilities. A 2022 independent study by the Ritshidze Project, a community-led clinic monitoring organization, indicates that stockouts of contraceptives accounted for 40% of all reported drug stockouts. The Association of Rural Doctors of South Africa says this poses a huge risk of unplanned pregnancy.

Dr Indira Govender, a member of the Association of Rural Doctors of South Africa, said information on the depletion of contraceptive stocks came from 400 primary health care facilities in South Africa.

“Our project, The Stop Stockout, has received reports of these contraceptive stock-outs, particularly the Depo injection, the hormonal injection given to women every two to three months. The implications of this are that the power of choice is gone. We have data from 2017 which shows that the contract with the supplier was terminated and that caused disruption. However, thereafter there was no communication from the Ministry of Health to explain what the reason is,” says Govender.

Healthcare workers in public health facilities were forced to give patients alternative methods of contraception. However, health rights experts claim that it is not a lasting solution due to side effects such as hormonal changes.

“In the event of a shortage of contraceptives, many medical professionals would recommend an alternative method, which of course is not an unreasonable response from a medical professional who wishes to do the best for their patient. We know that women who do not have access to contraceptives may need to negotiate condom use and we know that South Africa has a high rate of gender-based violence, so those negotiations could be difficult,” said Claire Waterhouse, regional advocacy coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.

Ordinary South Africans believe that failure to maintain birth control supplies threatens the reproductive health of women and families.

Johannesburg-based Thando Cuba and Amanda Magazi believe the Department of Health should focus its energy on ensuring there are sufficient supplies in public health facilities across the country.

“This shortage also affects me because it means that my partner and I could have an unwanted pregnancy. In reality, without access to free family planning, it will cost us financially if we now have to go buy at the pharmacy. We can’t afford it,” Cuba said.

“The shortage of contraceptives is not good at all because girls these days get pregnant at a young age. You see that these young girls are still in school. The shortage of contraceptives will also cause these young girls to drop out of school,” says Magazi.

In response to questions about the shortage of contraceptives, the South African Department of Health issued an official statement indicating that it was not aware of any supply constraints and that the supply plan indicates that suppliers have sufficient stocks to meet demand.

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