Hospitals in France at breaking point as flu epidemic spreads

The flu season has well and truly hit France - with emergency services 'stretched to capacity' and struggling to cope.

Hospitals in France at breaking point as flu epidemic spreads
Photo: AFP
France's Health Minister Marisol Touraine has said that French health care professionals were at breaking point due to the annual flu epidemic. 
“Emergency services are particularly in demand and they're at the limits of their capabilities,” she said at a press conference on Tuesday. 
She added that the epidemic was particularly intense this year, and “had not yet reached its peak”. 
“The reports I have seen today show a worrying situation.”
The virus is a strain of H3N2, a cousin of a flu that contributed to 18,000 deaths two years ago, public health authorities say.
Indeed, the virus struck France a month earlier than usual, with the majority of the country at epidemic level back in late December. 
Emergency medic Gérald Kierzek told the Europe 1 channel that the overcrowded hospitals weren't due to the virus itself, however.
“The flu isn't more virulent than in other years,” he said.
“It's rather that the hospital system is at saturation point. The health system is in free fall and the emergency services are the underside of the iceberg.”
France's health ministry, which gathers data from patient call-outs to doctors, said in its weekly report on Wednesday that 974,000 people contacted medics after getting struck down by stomach flu in the last four weeks. 
It added that the rate of flu-like illness reported was estimated to be 395 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, which is more than double epidemic threshold of 178 cases per 100,000.
The government urged the elderly and those with heart or lung problems to get a flu jab following the death of 13 residents at a nursing home in Lyon. It launched an investigation into their deaths. 
The department said that people should take extra measures to ensure they stay healthy, including: Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, washing your hands regularly, avoid going out if possible, throwing used tissues in a closed bin. 

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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.