French health chiefs on alert as south west hit by flu epidemic

The southern French region of Occitanie is officially in the "grippe" of a flu epidemic, according to health authorities after the number of cases has rocketed.

French health chiefs on alert as south west hit by flu epidemic
Photo: AFP
The conclusion was reached by public health authorities Santé Publique France whose latest bulletin on flu (“grippe” in French) outbreaks in France has classed Occitanie red, meaning Occitanie has reached the level of “epidemic”.
Meanwhile, all other regions have been classed orange, meaning that they are in a “pre-epidemic” level except the island of Corsica and Pay de la Loire in western France. 
So far the flu has led to more than 2,500 emergency room visits, with 89 people hospitalised and three deaths. 
The “epidemic” stage of the flu has hit France later this winter than the previous two years however health authorities have said there was nothing particularly exceptional about this. 
“The beginning of the spread of the virus, with a first region in 'epidemic' at the beginning of January is nothing exceptional when one looks at the epidemics of the past 10 years,” flu expert Sibylle Bernard-Stoecklin told BFM TV. “All epidemics arrive between November and March.”
This year, according to authorities, people have mostly been hit by the A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2). 
Doctors say it is still too early to find out exactly how effective the vaccine has been but have said that more people have been immunised this year. 
“Certainly, the increase in immunization coverage is good news,” said Bernard-Stoecklin.
Health authorities estimate 540,000 more people at risk (the over 65s, those who are chronically ill and pregnant women) were vaccinated for flu by November 30th 2018 compared to the previous winter. 
Health authorities have advised those at rise who have not yet been vaccinated to do so.
However a higher demand this year has made this difficult for some people. 
The lack of available vaccines this year which has occurred despite health authorities making sure 10 percent more vaccines were available compared to the previous winter.

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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.