Monday, February 28, 2011

Easier access to Morning After Pill may increase STI rate: Iona

Claims that easier access to the Morning After Pill will lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies are “completely without foundation,” the Iona Institute has said.

The statement came in response to claims made in the wake of the decision of the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) to approve a new version of the Morning After Pill, making it available without prescription in chemists.  

In reaction to the news, Dr Catriona Henchion, Medical Director of The Irish Family Planning Association, told RTÉ: “I think it’s going to reduce unplanned pregnancies.”

However, speaking on behalf of The Iona Institute, Professor David Paton of Nottingham University, said, “The claim that providing access to emergency birth control without prescription will lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies is completely without foundation. Every single piece of peer-reviewed research on this subject to date has found no evidence that easier access to EBC leads to lower rates of unwanted pregnancies, abortions or teenage pregnancies.” 

“This research is extensive, publicly available and the conclusions are accepted by those in favour and against the principle of EBC. Given this, it is hard to understand why policy makers would make such ill-informed claims.”

Professor Paton, a leading expert on programmes designed to reduce teen pregnancy, continued: “Even more worryingly, the most recent research suggests that easier access to EBC may lead to higher rates of sexually transmitted infections."

This claim is based on a new study by Professor Paton and colleague Sourafel Girma published in the Journal of Health Economics called The impact of emergency birth control on teen pregnancy and STIs.

The Iona Institute urged policy-makers “to carefully consider whether EBC should be made so easily available in the light of the fact that it does not reduce rates of unplanned pregnancy and may increase rates of STIs.”

Meanwhile, it emerged that, contrary to earlier reports, minors will not be able to access the new version of the contraceptive.  

While the license granted by the IMB for the product did not provide for any age limit, new guidelines produced by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) mean that pharmacists must have regard to the age of anyone seeking to buy it.

The guidelines point out: “Pharmacists should be aware that patients aged 16 years and over are entitled by law to give their own consent to medical treatment.”

However, it adds, “Where a patient is under the age of 16 years it is usual that parental consent is sought. Pharmacists should also be aware that the age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17 years. Where appropriate, pharmacists need to assure themselves of the age of the patient. Having regard to the age and circumstances of the individual patient, and any child protection issues arising, pharmacists should consider whether referral to a medical practitioner, other healthcare professional, or other agency or authority, is appropriate."

Reports in the Irish Times had indicated that NorLevo would be available “over the counter by females of any age.”