Population-based sample surveys provide the most comprehensive data on contraceptive practice since they show the prevalence of all methods, including those that require no supplies or medical services. Estimates may also be obtained by smaller-scale or more focused surveys and by adding relevant questions to surveys on other topics (e.g. health programme prevalence or coverage surveys).
Records kept by organized family planning programmes are another main source of information about contraceptive practice. Such records are crucial to effective monitoring and management of programmes, and they have the potential to provide timely updates and detailed trend information about numbers and characteristics of programme clients. Programme statistics have the serious drawback, however, of excluding the use of contraception obtained outside the programme, including modern methods supplied through non-programme sources (the private sector) as well as methods that do not require supplies or medical services. Other problems relate to incomplete data, double counting of users who enter the service delivery system at more than one point, deliberate inflation of service statistics, and poor data quality owing to other activities competing for the attention of those recording the information.
Measures of contraceptive prevalence are usually derived from interviews with representative samples of women of reproductive age. In many surveys, questions on current contraceptive use are confined to married women, including those in consensual unions where such unions are common.
Most surveys use broadly similar questions to measure contraceptive use. Women (and men in some instances) are first asked what methods they know of, and the interviewer then names or describes methods that were not mentioned. Respondents are then asked about the use of each method that was recognized. This procedure helps make clear to the respondent which methods are to be counted as contraceptives. The contraceptive methods are usually listed in order of efficacy, starting with sterilization, the pill, IUD and condom (the supply methods) and followed by non-supply methods such as rhythm and withdrawal. If the respondent mentions more than one method, the method higher on the list is marked.
Most surveys ask about use "now" or within the past month, although some specify other time periods. There is usually no information about the regularity with which the method is used or about the respondent's understanding of the correct means of use.
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