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  • Writer's pictureannaschurmann

New ideas for new contraceptive technologies

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

I have always wanted to go to Lake Naivasha in Kenya to see flamingos. Pink is my childhood favourite colour and I love birds - I was pretty sure flamingos and me are made for each other. Well, I went to Lake Naivasha as part of an ideation workshop focusing on new contraceptive technologies, hosted by BMGF and FHI360. I had an time, despite the complete lack of flamingos (water in the lake has risen and it’s too deep for them now).

Instead of flamingos, there was a wide and unconventional range of professionals; community health workers; sex researchers; medical doctors; engineers – all coming together to figure out new ideas for different contraceptive products. We also saw some hippos.

Products products products!

I think the goal of the workshop was initially frustrating for many of the professionals there, especially the community health workers. So many people lack information about the products that are already on the market as it is, would another one, or another suite of products just confuse people more? But one doctor pushed us to think further – she told us for many of her clients – no existing product was suitable, everything an uncomfortable compromise: trying to avoid side effects, pregnancy, partner push-back, and bankruptcy all at once. We definitely heard many accounts from non-users about awful side-effects; partner refusal; lack of support and real challenges in effective care seeking. We also heard how women’s health just wasn’t a priority for big pharma – they weren’t putting any money in it and often closing down existing research.

User centred design research vs structured qualitative research

The ideation process was sparked by user centred design research done by QuickSand, and they also facilitated the process. It was interesting seeing public health professionals struggle with this unstructured research that focused on looking at the context of peoples’ lives and creating “user personas” rather than breaking results down as representative of socio-economic status or place of residence. How did you analyse this data? Did the protocol go through an IRB? Were some of the questions people asked.

The ideas for new contraceptive products.

And what were the ideas? Wearables, vaccines, genetic testing or personalized medicine to control dosage and avoid side effects, vaginal gels, microchips with the ability to turn fertility on and off. My personal favourite was “japanese sex robots” – which have a very low chance of conception.

However, they’re already here – so they weren’t pursued in the workshop.

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