Volume 123, Issue S1 p. e29-e32
Family planning
Open Access

Addressing unmet need for long-acting family planning in Ethiopia: Uptake of single-rod progestogen contraceptive implants (Implanon) and characteristics of users

Mengistu Asnake

Corresponding Author

Mengistu Asnake

Pathfinder International, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Corresponding author at: Pathfinder International, P.O. Box 12655, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Tel.: + 251 11 320 3501.Search for more papers by this author
Elizabeth G. Henry

Elizabeth G. Henry

Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, USA

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Yewondwossen Tilahun

Yewondwossen Tilahun

Pathfinder International, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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Elizabeth Oliveras

Elizabeth Oliveras

Pathfinder International, Watertown, USA

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First published: 02 August 2013
Citations: 22
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.



To describe women who accept single-rod progestogen contraceptive implants (Implanon; N.V. Organon, Oss, Netherlands) from community health workers in Ethiopia and to assess whether community-based provision addresses unmet need for contraception.


Women who accepted Implanon during training events in 4 regions were asked about their characteristics and use of family planning. They were compared with implant users nationally and women with unmet need in the Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). Differences between groups were tested using 2-sample comparisons of proportions and means.


On average, Implanon acceptors were younger and had more years of education and fewer children than implant users nationally. Almost one-quarter (22.9%) of all participants had never used contraception before; this was slightly higher among women who chose Implanon (23.1% vs 16.4%; P = 0.04). Acceptors were also less likely than non-acceptors to be using contraception (70.8% vs 77.3%; P < 0.05) but all women interviewed were more likely to be using contraception than the rural population. Women who accepted Implanon were younger but more educated than women with unmet need for contraception in the 2005 DHS.


Provision of Implanon at the community level through community health workers is effective in reaching women with the greatest need for contraception.

1 Introduction

In Ethiopia, fertility rates and unmet need for family planning have traditionally been very high. However, use of modern contraception increased from 3% in 1990 to 14% in 2005 [1] and 27% by 2011 [2]. Unmet need for family planning declined from 34% in 2005 to 25% in 2011 [2].

Despite these positive trends, demand for family planning exceeds uptake of methods; while nearly 75% of married women of reproductive age wish to delay childbirth for at least 2 years or stop childbearing altogether, only 28% are using a modern method to prevent pregnancy [2]. Furthermore, there is heavy reliance on short-acting methods, such as injectables and pills, which are associated with high discontinuation rates. Increasing contraceptive method mix can reduce discontinuation [3] and this highlights the importance of improving access to long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods, the use of which has traditionally been limited in Ethiopia owing to commodity shortages and lack of skilled providers.

In order to address both unmet need for contraception and barriers to LARC use, the Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia decided to expand contraceptive method mix by providing a single-rod progestogen contraceptive implant (Implanon; N.V. Organon, Oss, Netherlands) at the community level beginning in 2009. The Integrated Family Health Program (IFHP), a Ministry of Health partner, scaled-up Implanon provision on behalf of the government through a task-shifting strategy that focused on training health extension workers (HEWs), who are salaried community-level health workers stationed at health posts in each kebele (village). Before 2009, HEWs provided only pills, condoms, and injectables; implants were provided only in hospitals and health centers staffed with nurses or higher-level clinical providers.

IFHP implemented this strategy in 4 regions (Amhara; Oromia; Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region; and Tigray) in 2 phases: a training phase beginning in July 2009 and a scale-up phase beginning in October 2009. IFHP uses a service-delivery-based, train-the-trainer model, with HEW supervisors trained to teach HEWs to provide Implanon insertion services. The training includes a clinical practicum during which participants travel to health posts and health centers and provide family-planning services. Prior to the training, HEWs identify women in the region with demand for LARCs and inform them that such services will be available during the training. The services are also advertised via other health workers and mobile vans. Women who seek services during the training are counseled about and offered the full range of contraceptive methods. Thus far, IFHP's community-based approach has been implemented in 209 of the 550 woredas (districts) in the country [4,5].

Despite support for scale-up, questions remain about the uptake of Implanon in Ethiopia, particularly about who is accessing community-level Implanon services and the impact of the scale-up on unmet need. The aim of the present study was to identify the demographic profile of women who accepted Implanon through HEW trainings and to assess whether or not the scale-up addresses unmet need for contraception.

2 Materials and methods

Data for the present descriptive, cross-sectional study were obtained during the practicum component of HEW Implanon insertion trainings. Data were collected in 24 woredas where Implanon insertion training was provided from November 2010 to April 2011. The training schedule was determined in consultation with regional health offices based on readiness of the woredas and availability of facilities for the practicum. All HEWs trained were also trained in data collection, research ethics, and practice on models. As part of routine care, monitoring data were collected on all women who sought family-planning services during the training practicum. At the end of the visit, women were asked for consent to use their data in the study. Data were collected using a monitoring tool that had been in use for 16 months. The tool, which included 9 questions on women's characteristics and chosen contraceptive method, was revised to include questions on ever-use of contraception, medical eligibility for Implanon use, and how the woman heard about the services; response codes were also specified. The study was approved by the Ethical Review Committee of the Ethiopian Public Health Association.

Demographic characteristics and reproductive history of Implanon acceptors were described using frequencies and means. Implanon acceptors in the present study were compared with rural implant users in the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) to determine whether the women using community-level services in the present study were similar to women using implants in rural areas throughout Ethiopia. Implanon acceptors were also compared with women with unmet need from the 2005 DHS to assess whether provision at the community level served women who had unmet need for contraception before implementation began.

Survey data were analyzed using Stata version 11.0 (StataCorp, College Station, TX, USA). Differences between groups were tested using χ2 or Fischer exact tests for discrete variables and t tests for continuous variables. Differences with the DHS were tested using 2-sample tests of the equality of proportions (z test) and of means (t test).

3 Results

During the study period, 6446 women came for services during Implanon insertion training, 6212 (96%) of whom consented to participate. The 5973 (96%) who were eligible to receive Implanon and who provided complete data on age and education were included in the analysis. Women were eligible for Implanon if they were not pregnant, were not breastfeeding a newborn less than 6 weeks old, and did not have any medical contraindications. Of the eligible women, 96.1% (n = 5741) chose Implanon. Eligible women who chose other methods (n = 225) mainly selected aqueous injection of DMPA (52.4%), pills (5.3%), or a 2-rod implant available since 2005 (Jadelle; Bayer Schering, Berlin, Germany [38.2%]). Less than 1% (n = 7) opted to use no method at all. The proportion of Implanon-eligible women who ultimately accepted Implanon varied from 90.7% in Oromia to 99.8% in Tigray (Table 1).

Table 1. Percentage of women accepting Implanon among those attending implant training events of HEWs, by region of Ethiopia.a
Region Percentage of Implanon acceptors (n = 5741) Percentage of acceptors of other methods (n = 225) Number of women
Amhara 96.6 3.4 3034
Oromia 90.7 8.9 1317
SNNP 99.5 0.5 597
Tigray 99.8 0.1 1004
Missing 90.5 9.5 21
Total 96.1 3.8 5973
  • Abbreviations: HEW, health extension worker; SNNP, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region.
  • a Seven women chose not to use a method; they are included in the number of women but not presented in the other columns.

The characteristics of Implanon acceptors are summarized in Table 2 and compared with data from the 2011 DHS. In the present study, such women were younger (4.4 years; P < 0.01) than those in the DHS and had similar educational attainment. In both the present sample and the DHS, the majority of women had no education and over one-quarter had only primary education. On average, study participants who received implants had fewer living children than reported in the 2011 DHS (3.6 vs 4.5; P < 0.01). In the DHS, almost half of implant users had 5 or more children, compared with 31.7% in the present study. Compared with 18.8% in the DHS, 29.7% of women in the present study had only 1 or 2 children.

Table 2. Demographic characteristics of women accepting Implanon compared with rural implant users as reported in the 2011 Ethiopia DHS.
Characteristic Percentage of Implanon acceptors (n = 5741) Percentage of rural implant users, 2011 DHS (n = 186) P value
Age, y
 15–19 4.9 5.4 0.76
 20–24 20.1 7.5 < 0.01
 25–29 31.7 25.8 0.09
 30–34 23.7 18.3 0.09
 35–39 14.3 20.4 0.02
 40–44 4.2 16.7 < 0.01
 45–49 1.1 5.9 < 0.01
 Mean ± SD 28.3 ± 6.0 32.7 ± 7.8 < 0.01
Level of education
 None 66.3 72.6 0.07
 Primary 28.9 24.2 0.16
 Secondary 4.8 3.2 0.31
 Mean ± SD years of education 1.7 ± 2.9 1.3 ± 2.6 0.06
Number of living children
 0 4.2 3.8 0.79
 1–2 29.7 18.8 < 0.01
 3–4 34.2 29.6 0.19
 ≥ 5 31.7 47.9 < 0.01
 Missing 0.2 0.0 0.39
 Mean ± SD 3.6 ± 2.1 4.5 ± 2.4 < 0.01
  • Abbreviation: DHS, Demographic and Health Survey.

In terms of contraceptive history, 22.9% of the women who sought services during training had never used a contraceptive method before; a similar proportion (23.1%) of women who chose Implanon were new users (Table 3). The majority (70.8%) of women who accepted Implanon were using a contraceptive method at the time of the visit. Most (87%) of the women who chose the implant switched from DMPA injections. Almost 20% of women who accepted other methods had been using their previous method for more than 48 months, whereas most women who chose Implanon had been using their previous contraceptive method for a shorter period of time. Just under half (46.1%) of women who were current contraceptive users had been using a method for less than 1 year.

Table 3. History of contraceptive use comparing women accepting Implanon and those accepting other methods.
Characteristic Percentage of Implanon acceptors (n = 5741) Percentage of acceptors of other methods (n = 225)
How woman heard about the servicesa
 Health extension worker 68.6 50.7
 Mobile van 9.4 9.8
 Health professional 6.6 16.4
 Family 6.9 4.9
 Friend/Neighbor 1.6 3.6
 Other 3.4 7.5
 Missing 3.6 7.1
Ever used contraceptionb
 Yes 76.8 83.6
 No 23.1 16.4
 Missing 0.1 0.0
Using contraception at time of visitb
 Yes 70.8 77.3
 No 28.4 21.8
 Missing 0.8 0.9
Among those currently using a method
 Previous method used (n = 4066) (n = 174)
 DMPA 87.1 87.4
 Intrauterine device 0.7 0.6
  Implanon 2.2 0.6
  Jadelle 0.2 0.0
  Norplant 0.8 1.2
 Pills/combined oral contraceptives 7.8 10.3
 Condoms 0.1 0.0
 Lactational amenorrhea method 0.7 0.0
 Natural family planning 0.3 0.0
Duration of method use, mob
 0–1 0.5 0.0
 1–11 46.1 43.7
 12–23 21.1 14.9
 24–35 12.4 13.8
 36–47 8.2 7.5
 ≥ 48 10.8 19.0
 Missing 0.9 1.2
Total 100 100
  • a P < 0.01.
  • b P < 0.05.

Among current users who chose methods other than the implant, 50.0% continued to use the same method that they were already using. Overall, 90.8% of these women were using injectables and 9.2% were using pills. Of the 48.3% who switched methods, the vast majority (83.3%) switched to Jadelle (generally from injectables) and a few women switched to an intrauterine device. In total, 13% switched to a short-acting method, although more than half of these women switched from pills to injectables, which are more effective.

Relative to the general population of women of reproductive age in Ethiopia, a higher proportion of women who came for services during the training sessions were using a modern contraceptive method. Only 17% of women surveyed in rural areas of the study regions in the 2005 DHS and 29.4% of women surveyed in the IFHP baseline survey in 2009 were using a modern method [6].

Most women (68%) who chose Implanon heard about the services from HEWs; these women were significantly more likely to have heard about the services from this source compared with women who chose other methods. Women who sought services during the training and accepted the implant were generally younger but more educated than women with unmet need for family planning in the 2005 DHS (Table 4). On average, the study participants who accepted Implanon were 1.5 years younger than all women with unmet need in the rural areas of the study regions (P < 0.01). Although the majority of women in both groups had no education, a larger proportion of women who accepted Implanon in the present study had attended primary school (29.3% vs 16.5%) and secondary school or higher (4.8% vs 1.5%) compared with women with unmet need in the DHS.

Table 4. Characteristics of rural women with unmet need compared with women accepting Implanon.
Characteristic Percentage of Implanon acceptors (n = 5741) Percentage of rural women in study provinces with unmet need, 2005 DHS (n = 1621) P valuea
Age, y
 15–19 4.9 9.3 < 0.01
 20–24 20.1 17.2 < 0.01
 25–29 31.7 23.2 < 0.01
 30–34 23.7 18.6 < 0.01
 35–39 14.3 16.3 0.04
 40–44 4.2 10.5 < 0.01
 45–49 1.1 4.9 < 0.01
 Mean ± SD 28.3 ± 6.0 29.8 ± 8.0 < 0.01
 None 66.3 82.0 < 0.01
 Primary 29.3 16.5 < 0.01
 Secondary or higher 4.8 1.5 < 0.01
 Mean ± SD years of education 1.7 ± 2.9 0.6 ± 1.6 < 0.01
Number of living children
 0 4.2 6.1 < 0.01
 1–2 29.7 25.4 < 0.01
 3–4 34.2 30.0 < 0.01
 ≥ 5 31.7 25.7 < 0.01
 Missing 0.2 0.0 0.07
 Mean ± SD 3.6 ± 2.1 4.0 ± 2.5 < 0.01
  • Abbreviation: DHS, Demographic and Health Survey.
  • a Comparing Implanon acceptors with 2005 DHS women with unmet need.

Although the age distribution of Implanon acceptors in the present study was significantly different from the age distribution of women who reported unmet need in the 2005 DHS—with women served by HEWs more concentrated between the ages of 20 and 34—the pattern was similar (Fig. 1). This same pattern was seen in each of the regions (results not shown) and for women who accepted Implanon but who had never used family planning before (i.e. those most likely to have unmet need). New users of family planning who accepted Implanon were even younger than the total population of women who accepted it.

Details are in the caption following the image

Comparison of women who accepted Implanon and rural women with unmet need in the 2005 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey.

4 Discussion

On average, women who received Implanon from HEWs during training sessions were 28.3 years of age, had 3.6 living children, and had primary or no education. Given that women were referred to the training venue in large part based on a stated desire for Implanon, this probably reflects the women who had most interest in this method. However, these women differed from women in rural areas of the study regions who reported using implants in the 2011 DHS. Study participants who accepted Implanon were younger and more educated, and had fewer children than the women using implants in the 2011 DHS. The provision of Implanon at the community level through task-shifting to HEWs may be more effective in reaching these particular women. Notably, the Implanon acceptors in the present study were similar to women who accepted the same implant in a study in Nigeria, where the average woman was 32.4 years of age and had 3.4 living children [7]. In that study, the women were more educated than in the present sample, with 75% having secondary or higher education [7].

The present results show that Implanon is being accepted at the community level by both first-time contraceptive users and previous users of family planning. We anticipated that most women would be switching from injectables to Implanon, and while this was true a substantial proportion (almost one-quarter) of acceptors were new users. This indicates that bringing services to communities may increase overall contraceptive use. Almost half of the women who chose other methods chose another type of implant, which highlights the demand for long-acting methods. These results reinforce the importance of ensuring that a comprehensive range of methods is available at the level of community health posts.

The present results have promising implications for reduction of unmet need. The community HEW strategy is reaching women with the highest levels of unmet need, particularly those aged 20–35 years. This may reflect the effectiveness of task-shifting in reaching younger women who have more limited access to health services. Young married women in Ethiopia need approval from their husbands, mothers-in-law, and immediate family members to travel to towns where health centers are located, and they are normally escorted when traveling. Providing local contraceptive services through providers known to women and their families may reduce such barriers to access. However, the age distribution of acceptors in the present study may indicate that older women with unmet need are not being reached as effectively through this strategy.

The present study had several limitations. First, the simple data collection strategy limited the number of variables collected. Other variables might have shown important areas of difference and added to our understanding of the extent to which the scale-up is meeting unmet need. However, the data collection was designed to balance the information needs of the present study with ongoing monitoring for clinical purposes. Second, because of the Implanon training schedule during the study period, the distribution of users by region was heavily skewed toward Amhara, which represents over half of all women in the study. Although not accounted for in the present paper, the findings were explored by region, with the regional patterns similar to overall results. However, for the comparison with implant users, the DHS sample was inadequate for regional analysis. Third, because data were collected during the training of HEWs, they represent only those women who sought services during the training. This facilitated data collection but did allow for selection bias. Furthermore, the results cannot be generalized to all women receiving Implanon through community-based services. Women who seek care at their local health posts (i.e. once HEWs return to their health posts and offer Implanon as part of their everyday activities) may be different from women who are willing and able to attend a central location during the specific dates of a training event. However, the women in the present study were markedly similar to those seen by HEWs in a study of DMPA [8]; in that study, on average, the women were 28.4 years of age and had 3.6 children. This might indicate that the present sample was representative of women who are served by HEWs.

The present results provide information on the demographic profile of Implanon acceptors and can aid in targeting potential users. This information is important for continued scale-up of the country's family-planning program and can be used to improve service delivery and increase access to family-planning services. Since international donors have been primarily responsible for securing the commodities for family planning, it is essential that they focus on supplying a method mix that will enable women to choose their preferred methods. This includes expanding access to Implanon and other LARC methods that are less sensitive to logistic and supply issues.


The present study was conducted through collaborative efforts of IFHP—a USAID-funded family-planning/maternal, newborn, and child health program in Ethiopia—the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, and Pathfinder International. Funding was provided through Pathfinder International private funds.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest.