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HEALTH

Outcry in France over woman’s death after scorned emergency call

French authorities have opened an inquiry into the death of a young woman just hours after her distress call to emergency services was mocked by the operator, prompting a public outcry and new calls for increased funding for France's health system.

Outcry in France over woman's death after scorned emergency call
Photo: AFP

French authorities have opened an inquiry into the death of a young woman just hours after her distress call to  emergency services was mocked by the operator, prompting a public outcry.

Naomi Musenga, 22, dialled France's emergency dispatch number on December  29 last year complaining of strong stomach pains.

In a recording of the three-minute call obtained only recently by her family, Musenga's voice can barely be heard as says “It hurts all over” and  “I'm going to die…”

“You're going to die, certainly, one day just like everyone else,” the female operator responds.

She is also heard mocking Musenga's complaints with a colleague, before telling the victim to call a doctor for a house visit.

Five hours later Musenga again calls the emergency services, which finally dispatch the ambulance that brings her to a hospital in Strasbourg, eastern France.

But she died shortly after arriving from a heart attack.

According to French daily Le Monde, an autopsy revealed that Musenga had suffered multiple organ failure.

French Health Minister Agnes Buyzn posted on Twitter she was “deeply outraged” and had ordered an inquiry into the “serious failures” by the  emergency services.

The circumstances surrounding Musenga's death have reignited calls for increased funding and resources for France's health system.

“In 1988, eight million people went to hospital emergency rooms each year. Today's it's 21 million,” Patrick Pelloux, head of the French association of  emergency doctors (AMUF) told French daily Le Parisien.

“At the same time, calls to emergency services have tripled,” which have  effectively reduced them to “call centres”, Pelloux said.

The government is already grappling with huge strains on the health system,  with hospital doctors denouncing for weeks a shortage of beds that means many patients are forced to sleep on gurneys in hallways.

Nurses and other workers have also been protesting in recent weeks against overcrowding and staff shortages.

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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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