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HEALTH

France halts sale of contraceptive pill

France has suspended sales of an acne drug whose use as a birth control pill has been linked to the deaths of four women.

France halts sale of contraceptive pill
File photo of pills. Photo: E-magine art/Flickr

It is the latest health scare to erupt in France, coming after controversies involving later-generation contraceptive pills, breast implants and a pill used as a dietary aid that was linked to heart failure.

On Wednesday, the National Agency for the Safety of Drugs and Health Products (ANSM) said it was suspending sales of a hormonal treatment called Diane-35, which is currently prescribed to 315,000 women in France.

The move will be phased in over three months to allow users to find an alternative drug, Dominique Maraninchi, the agency's director, told a press conference.

The product, made by the German firm Bayer, is authorized for treating acne in young women, but doctors have been prescribing it as a contraceptive because it stops ovulation, he said.

"This drug is not licensed for use as a contraceptive," Maraninchi said. "(…) But it is being used as such, in this secondary role… yet there are plenty of other alternative contraceptives that can be used in this country."

Maraninchi said the agency had also carried out a benefit-versus-risk assessment for Diane-35 on the basis of its use as an acne treatment. The assessment was negative, which explains why the drug is being suspended from the French market, he said.

Diane-35 is sold in 116 countries around the world, according to the ANSM website. Over 25 years, four women have died and 125 fallen ill from blood clots attributed to Diane-35, according to ANSM.

France has been shaken by a series of health scares in recent years. It has asked the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to change prescription guidelines for so-called third- and fourth-generation oral contraceptives after these drugs were found to carry a higher risk of blood clots compared to earlier versions.

In 2010, the French authorities called down breast implant manufacturer Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) after it was found to be using non-authorized silicone gel that caused a high rate of implant ruptures. Health experts disagree on the risks, though.

Another scandal concerns an anti-diabetes drug called Mediator, manufactured by the French pharmaceutical company Servier, which started being used as a slimming aid because it reduces hunger pangs.

The drug was pulled off the market in 2009 after evidence emerged of hundreds of deaths caused by damage to heart valves.

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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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