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HEALTH

French breast implant scare: women told ‘don’t panic’

European authorities sought to head off panic Wednesday over hundreds of thousands of French-made breast implants at the centre of a health scare, saying there was no proof of a link to cancer.

French authorities are to issue an expert report on Friday saying whether the implants, produced by the now-bankrupt Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) company, should be removed after several suspicious cancer cases.

Documents obtained by AFP on Wednesday showed that tens of thousands of women in more than 65 countries, mainly in South America and western Europe, received implants produced by the company.

According to PIP’s 2010 bankruptcy filing in the French city of Toulon, it exported 84 percent of its annual production of 100,000 implants.

Between 2007 and 2009, 50 to 58 percent of its exports went to South American countries including Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina, the filing showed.

In the same period, 27 to 28 percent of exports went to western European nations including Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany. 

French health officials have already said the government plans to recommend to the 30,000 French women with PIP implants that they be removed, after eight cases of cancer, mainly breast cancer, were reported.

France’s health ministry however has said there was no “urgent health risk” from the implants and no “causal link” with cancer has yet been proved.

PIP was shut down and its product banned last year after it was revealed to have been using non-authorised silicone gel that caused abnormally high rupture rates of its implants.

Facing financial difficulties, the company, once the world’s third-largest producer of silicone implants, replaced the medical-grade silicone in its implants with industrial-strength material.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in Britain, where up to 50,000 women have been given PIP implants, urged patients not to panic, although it said they may want to consult their surgeons.

“We did extensive genotoxic and chemical tests and we could find no evidence of any safety aspect associated with this filler,” MHRA medical director Suzanne Ludgate told BBC radio.

“We have been working very closely with the professional bodies to look at the incidence of cancer associated with these breast implants and we’ve worked with the cancer registry and we can find no evidence for any association.”

In Germany, authorities said it was not known how many German women had received the implants and that no recall was planned for the moment.

“We are waiting for the decision from French authorities, with whom we are in close contact,” a health ministry spokesman told AFP.

German authorities “had already in April warned women and doctors who used these products,” he said.

In Spain the health ministry said it was not recommending the implants be removed but was urging women who had received the implants to have them checked for ruptures.

It also could not say how many Spanish women had received the implants.

The commercial filing also showed eastern European countries including Bulgaria, Russia and Poland accounted for 10 percent of PIP’s exports in 2009.

Middle Eastern and Asian countries accounted for only about eight percent of its exports that year.

Prosecutors in Marseille, near the firm’s home base of Seyne-sur-Mer, have received more than 2,000 complaints from French women who received the implants and have opened a criminal investigation into the firm.

A lawyer for PIP founder Jean-Claude Mas, 72, told AFP his client was prepared to face prosecution and denied the implants could be linked with health problems.

“For the moment there is no evidence that the product can cause illness,” the lawyer, Yves Haddad, said.

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HEALTH

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.

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