The Asia-Pacific market for contraceptives should post strong growth in the next decade as women shed their fears and new products are introduced, drugs giant Bayer Schering Pharma said.
China, India and Vietnam are among the key growth areas for the region, where the use of reliable birth control methods remains low, said Phil Smits, head of the Women's Healthcare Global Business Unit at Bayer Schering.
"Growth in the region is going to be in the double digits... I would qualify it as low double digit," Smits told reporters in Singapore, where the firm has its regional headquarters.
He said Asia-Pacific currently accounts for only three percent of the global market for contraceptive pills, with most of the growth coming from the United States, Europe and Latin America.
The women's healthcare market was valued at 11 billion euros (16.4 billion US) worldwide in 2007, with oral contraceptives accounting for around 45 percent, he said.
This is projected to grow to 18.1 billion euros by 2019.
China is a major target market for the company, especially with the rising number of affluent families there who can afford Bayer Schering's products, Smits said.
Only two percent of women in China use oral birth control pills, compared with 34 percent in Germany and 19 percent in the United States, Smits said.
One major challenge is overcoming concerns among Asian women about the side effects of birth control pills, which have now become safer, can help control acne and do not lead to weight gains, he added.
There are "a lot of...misconcepts, mistruths" about contraceptive pills, Smits said, citing fears that women who take them will no longer get pregnant after they stop.
"That is absolutely not true whatsoever," he said.
Many women in Asia also believe that contraceptive pills can cause cancer, while others are uncomfortable using intra-uterine contraception like the IUD.
"In general, the utilisation of reliable contraception (in Asia-Pacific) is low," Smits said.
"So for us this will be a matter of market development. We're going to do that through educational outreach programmes, having campaigns where we want to inform consumers and health care providers of the pros and cons of different methods of contraception."
Beyond birth control, Bayer Schering is also developing pills that can help women manage menopause and gynaecological disorders.