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HEALTH

Flu epidemic leaves French hospitals in crisis

France has triggered its crisis response plan after hospitals raised the alarm on Thursday that they were struggling to cope with the flu epidemic that has now struck down more than two million patients.

Flu epidemic leaves French hospitals in crisis
Accident and emergency wards are struggling to deal with flu patients. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

On Thursday accident and emergency wards spoke of a “critical health situation” in hospitals across France and called on the government to provide more beds.

"In emergency wards there are thousands of patients on stretchers, waiting for a bed. Sometimes they have to wait more than 24 hours,or have to be transferred tens of kilometers away," Christophe Prudhomme president of AMUF, the association of emergency doctors in France, told BFM TV.

“We are asking hospitals to open up extra beds and that the quality of care is the best possible to manage the situation this winter,” read a statement from AMUF.

The “over saturation of emergency services is comparable to the situation in 2003” said François Braun, from the organisation Samu-Urgences de France, referring to the deadly summer heatwave that left 15,000 dead.

In response to the call from hospitals health minister Marisol Touraine triggered the ORSAN action plan, which helps health authorities provide care in “exceptional circumstances”.

It allows regional health authorities to demand more resources in the event of a crisis. That could include opening up extra beds or funding the costs of bringing in extra staff. 

Health authorities declared this week that the number of people affected the by the flu virus in France has now passed two million.

The Local reported at the end of January how the flu had taken hold of the country and had reached the point of an epidemic, partly due to the fact this year’s jab has been ineffective.

Experts say the effectiveness of the flu jab may not be optimal because the influenza strain that has been most frequently recorded this season is slightly different from the one used in the vaccination.

The peak of the epidemic was forecast to be mid-February.

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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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