UK – The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved a reclassification of HRA Pharma’s contraceptive pill, making it available to buy in the UK without a prescription.

Following the reclassification authorization, the progestogen only pill containing 75 micrograms desogestrel will be available for women in the UK to purchase over the counter after a pharmacy consultation.

HRA Pharma said it is also working with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a similar switch and would become the first non-prescriptive contraceptive drug to be used by used by women in the US upon approval.

Michelle Riddalls, chief executive officer of consumer healthcare association PAGB said, “This is the first time that any form of daily contraceptive pill has been licensed for over-the-counter sale in the UK, 60 years after the pill was originally offered by the NHS initially to married women only.”

“Enabling women to buy the progestogen-only pill in pharmacies will be particularly beneficial at a time when accessing sexual health services has become more challenging in parts of the UK because of pressure on NHS resources and the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.

Last year a report by a cross-party group of MPs found that many women in England were struggling to access contraceptive pills as a result of underfunding and cuts to services, which was only made worse by Covid-19.

The report warned that reduced access to contraception would affect marginalized groups the hardest, with young people possibly put off from going to see their doctors about contraceptives.

Access to contraceptives globally has been a global issue that’s been hindering women to achieve equality in economic and social activity.

With the help of family planning tools, women are able to envisage investing in professional training that may take several years, because they are confident that their plans will not be derailed by the unexpected birth of a child.

More recent evidence found that access to family planning in developing countries can lead to “increased schooling, labor force participation, occupational choice, and wages.”

In Malaysia, for example, girls living near family planning clinics remained in school six months longer on average.

Indonesia researchers found that the presence of family planning programs when young women are making school attendance decisions increases substantially their educational attainment.

The gains from greater women’s economic empowerment accrue not only to women but to society as a whole.

According to a McKinsey study, achieving gender parity in economic participation could add a quarter ($28 trillion) to the world economy by 2025.

In the Middle East, where the gap between male and female participation in the work force is three times larger than the average for all developing countries, simply narrowing that gap to being twice as large as the average would add $1 trillion to economic activity over a decade.

A look through the economic literature shows there are many equally striking estimates of the gains that would come through greater economic empowerment of women at the regional, national or global level.

While these numbers are impressive and helpful in making the case for increased access to family planning services on the grounds of economic impact, they must be secondary to the fundamental issue of women’s rights.

Two hundred million women who want to prevent pregnancy are not currently using modern contraception too often because of poverty or environmental restrictions that deny them access to this essential service.

Given these facts, it is a shame to see the decline in international support for expanding family planning services in developing countries.

Development is about more than improved living standards or a better quality of life, it is being empowered to make choices about one’s own life.

Ensuring that half the world’s population can exercise their choices about whether and when to bear children is a development goal that should be a priority for all.