Health chiefs in south west France warn public over deadly measles epidemic

Health authorities in south western France, which has been hit by a measles epidemic, have reminded the public of the dangers of the virus after a young woman died this week.

Health chiefs in south west France warn public over deadly measles epidemic
The hospital in Poitiers where the young woman died after contracting measles.

The young woman died in hospital in the city of Poitiers, in the Vienne department, the regional health authority (ARS) in Bordeaux announced on Tuesday.

According to hospital authorities the 32-year-old woman had not been vaccinated against the virus. She was admitted to hospital on February 1st and quickly transferred to intensive care but not did survive.

The Nouvelle-Acquitaine region of western and south western France (see map below) has been hit by an epidemic of measles since November which has resulted in 269 confirmed cases, of whom 66 were admitted to hospital for treatment. Around one quarter of those admitted to hospital were treated in intensive care.

Those figures represent a jump by around 50 percent in the number of measles cases since January 24th, the last time authorities released data.

French health authorities said the death of the woman underlined the importance of being vaccinated against measles and asked the public to check their medical records to make sure they were.

“It's the only way to stop the epidemic,” they said reminding the public that “there is no cure for the disease” which is highly contagious.

“Measles is not a benign disease, especially for children and can lead to respiratory and neurological complications that can have serious consequences,” said the regional health authority (ARS) in a statement.

The hospital in Poitiers believes at least five people hospitalized there contracted the virus by coming into contact with another patient.

Hospital chiefs have no enforced a rule that all members of the public entering the emergency wards must wear a mask. Some 54 members of staff have had to be vaccinated.

Authorities are worried that the rate of vaccinations in the Nouvelle-Acquitane region is too low to cope with the epidemic. It is believed between 70 and 81 percent of the public are vaccinated but the level recommended by the World Health Organisation is 95 percent. 

In France, children are vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella when aged between 12 and 18 months. 

A new law in France makes it obligatory for children to be vaccinated against 11 diseases.

France plans to make 11 vaccinations compulsory for children


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.