Mediator, a drug licensed for use by diabetics that became widely prescribed in France as a slimming aid, "probably" caused at least 1,300 deaths before it was withdrawn, a study published on Thursday said.

"/> Mediator, a drug licensed for use by diabetics that became widely prescribed in France as a slimming aid, "probably" caused at least 1,300 deaths before it was withdrawn, a study published on Thursday said.

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HEALTH

Weight loss drug killed at least 1,300: study

Mediator, a drug licensed for use by diabetics that became widely prescribed in France as a slimming aid, "probably" caused at least 1,300 deaths before it was withdrawn, a study published on Thursday said.

Mahmoud Zureik of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), who co-led the probe, told AFP that around 3,100 people had required hospitalisation during the 33 years during which the drug was sold.

However, these figures could well be an “underestimate,” he said.

The study, appearing in the specialised journal Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety, finetunes an estimate by Zureik in 2010 that the death toll from the scandal was between 1,000 and 2,000.

Mediator, known by its lab name as benfluorex, was initially licensed to reduce levels of fatty proteins called lipids, with the claim that it helped diabetics control their level of blood sugar.

But it also suppressed appetite, which meant it gained a secondary official use to help obese diabetics lose weight.

In fact, it was widely sold on prescription for non-diabetics wanting to slim.

In 2009, Mediator was pulled from the European market amid evidence that it damaged heart valves and caused pulmonary hypertension.

Its French manufacturer, Servier, is being probed on suspicion of dishonest practices and deception.

The new study is an extrapolation based on figures for deaths from faulty heart valves, although not from hypertension, among major users of the drug.

The main data comes from France’s national health insurance system, which said that 303,000 patients used Mediator in 2006.

According to Mediator, 145 million packets of Mediator were sold on the French market before the drug was pulled.

The Mediator case came to light after a scandal involving a similar type of anti-obesity drug, fenfluramine, in the late 1990s.

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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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