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HEALTH

Deaths prompt probe into contraceptive pill

French health regulator ANSM has launched a probe into the drug Diane-35, used to treat acne and also as a contraceptive, after linking it to four deaths over the past 25 years.

Deaths prompt probe into contraceptive pill
Photo: Zimpenfish/Flickr

Produced by the German drugmaker Bayer, Diane-35 is authorized in 135 countries and sold in 116.

In 2012, about 315,000 women in France used the drug, ANSM said in a statement on Sunday.

Four deaths due to thrombosis – a kind of blood clot – were linked to the use of Diane-35, ANSM said, promising to release a full report on the drug and its risks next week.

Three other deaths reported by French newspaper Le Figaro on its website as connected to the drug were linked to existing health conditions, the regulator confirmed.

Diane-35, also sold as Dianette in some countries, is a hormone tablet that treats certain types of acne for women and is also used as a contraceptive.

A database of information from French doctors shows 125 cases of thrombosis related to Diane-35 or other forms of the drug since 1987, when the drug was first released onto the market.

In response, Bayer said on Sunday that the blood clot risk was "known and clearly indicated in the patient information leaflet".

Bayer added that the drug was only supposed to be prescribed for acne, and in the context of a medical consultation addressing all the precautions of use.

In France, Diane-35 is only authorized for the treatment of acne, but its hormone make-up means it could work as a contraceptive by blocking ovulation.

France announced last year that so-called third generation birth-control pills – newer pills that contain variants of the hormone progestin – will no longer be reimbursed by the social security system from March.

Earlier this month, ANSM launched a probe into the use of newer contraceptive pills on the market over fears of blood clots after a woman sued Bayer over an alleged clot caused by her pill.

One French lawyer told French media on Sunday that around 100 women had contacted him, intending to sue both Bayer and ANSM for not raising the alarm sooner.

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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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