Irish Examiner – October 14 2009
By Jennifer Hough
UNNECESSARY delays in accessing the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) are resulting in an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has warned.
In its annual report, released, the IFPA reiterated its stance that the pill should be available over-the-counter in pharmacies.
The IFPA also revealed a new survey showing that many women are accessing the pill outside an important 24-hour time frame.
Dr Caitriona Henchion, medical director of the IFPA explained that the pill is licensed for 72 hours after unprotected or under-protected sex, so the sooner a woman takes it the more effective it is.
"The first 24 hours is regarded as the optimal time in which to take the ECP," she said.
"Requiring women to visit a doctor to get a prescription to access it causes an unreasonable delay in timely use. This unnecessary delay results in an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy."
Dr Henchion said it would not be enough to just make the pill available over the counter, but that a vigorous awareness campaign was needed to educate woman that they had to take it as soon as possible.
The IFPA doctor said there was no sign that the pill would become more readily available any time soon, and stressed that it is simply an ovulation suppressor.
"People might fear this is an abortion type pill but it is taken after sex, but before conception," she said.
In the new study, almost of half of women (46%) presented for emergency contraceptive services 24 hours or more after unprotected sex.
The survey also shed light on the age profile of women requesting emergency contraception services, with more than half of women (52%) in the study aged 22 or older.
While 54% of women presented for emergency contraception services within 24 hours of unprotected or under-protected sex, 35% of women only accessed emergency contraceptive services between 24 and 48 hours after unprotected or under-protected sex.
A further 11% experienced a delay of 48 hours or more before accessing emergency contraceptive services.
The survey also found that a high figure (71%) of women in the study requested the pill because they had used no contraception.
"People are clearly not getting the message, we would advise all sexually active women to talk to their GP about long-term contraception needs," Dr Henchion added.
In the annual report’s forward, IFPA bosses again criticised the government’s decision to scrap plans for a national cervical cancer vaccine programme, calling it a "massive missed" opportunity and stating that it advocated a reinstatement of the full vaccination programme for girls aged 12, including a full catch up programme for girls aged 13 to 15.