This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Leslie Heyer, the founder and president of Cycle Technologies, reports that women using her CycleBeads to count the days since their menstrual cycle began have successfully delivered about 1.5 million babies and have avoided about 5 million unwanted pregnancies. Her latest product is an app that she hopes will help even more than the 6 million who have used her beads.
Heyer, a Harvard-educated social entrepreneur, recently launched a new app called Dot that helps women understand when pregnancy is most–and least–likely to occur during the month, based principally on the date a woman starts her monthly cycle.
Cycle Technologies, with revenues of $1 million annually from product sales and consulting, has been producing its CycleBeads for nearly a decade. The beads are distributed through partnerships with NGOs to women around the developing world.
Be sure to watch my interview with Heyer in the player at the top of the article.
“There are approximately 225 million women worldwide who have an unmet need for contraception and annually there are over 85 million unplanned pregnancies,” she says. About half of unplanned pregnancies result in abortion, she adds.
Other problems associated with unplanned pregnancies, she notes, include worse health outcomes for both the mother and the child as well as lower educational attainment for both.
“The number one reason that women globally cite for not using contraception is concerns about side effects.”
Both the new Dot app and the CycleBeads address this number one concern by using a woman’s natural cycle.
John Skibiak, director of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, a global network of NGOs and others working to improve access to family planning in the developing world says, many in the community are skeptical about using the “rhythm method” and sometimes talk about the CycleBeads with “derision.”
He points out, however, that the CycleBeads have been successful at opening doors, particularly in faith-based, mission-led health clinics run by both Catholics and protestants. In Zambia, he says, the natural approach to family planning allowed the coalition members to bring contraceptives into a health clinic where they hadn’t been allowed previously.
He also noted that the beads gave older, illiterate women in the community a tool to help them educate young women about their cycles and fertility. Overall, he is glad to have the tools to help build grassroots support for contraception.
Skibiak says that the CycleBeads, and by implication, the Dot app, don’t work well in situations where the couple doesn’t communicate well. He hastened to add that no contraceptive method works well in all situations and that CycleBeads are no different.
“I think the new app provides a real opportunity to expand,” he concluded.
Heyer says that the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University is conducting a study to determine the effectiveness of the app, both in the perfect use the typical use cases.
In computer modeling, she says the perfect use case should show about 97 to 99 percent efficacy, acknowledging that the typical use case would be lower.
“Research shows that these methods [CycleBeads and the Dot app] are highly attractive to women,” Hyer says, “and are reaching women who have unmet contraceptive need and are at risk for unplanned pregnancies.”
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!