Danger lurks in e-pill overuse

With youth having unsafe sex at the expense of their health and safety, it is emerging that men would rather have their women take the e-pill than use a condom. ALLAN OLINGO explores the flipside to the pill

Every year, more than one million women in Kenya become pregnant without planning to have a child at that time. The government is now facing pressure to avail emergency contraceptive pills in local shops such as kiosks to allow women to have easy access to them.

Emergency contraception is an important backup in preventing pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. The emergency pill, in particular, is more effective as it is readily available over the counter. The amount of active hormone in one course of this pill is less than half of that found in a cycle of most common contraceptive pills although the dose in monthly pills is spread out over a longer period.

Condoms break

Dr Brigid Monda, a leading gynaecologist notes that accidents happen and that is the idea behind the morning-after pill or emergency contraception, as it is commonly known.

"People have intercourse without using protection or at an unsafe period of their cycles when they didn’t expect to, or there are even cases of condoms breaks or even women, unfortunately, getting sexually assaulted and these are the cases where the emergency pills should be used", she notes.

With a youthful population that is bent on having unprotected sex at the expense of their health and safety, it is also emerging that men would rather have their women take the emergency control pills than use a condom.

Dr Joachim Osur, a reproductive health practitioner notes that most women fear getting pregnant more than contracting HIV. This is so probably because HIV can be hidden for a while, whereas pregnancy is visible to the world especially after three months and the stigma related to it before marriage is great.

Phobia for pregnancy

"Most women will worry about pregnancy because since they were eight years old, through teenage, parents, especially the mothers, will keep hammering the warning that whatever they do, they should never get pregnant, as the mothers are not willing to shoulder the responsibility, so the girls grows up with the phobia for pregnancy," noted Dr Osur.

According to Valentine Musau, a student at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, it is true that women fear pregnancy more than anything else and will do whatever it takes to prevent it.

"Even though I am a strong proponent of women’s reproductive rights, I am immensely worried that emergency contraceptives are fast becoming the primary method of birth control for women and the moral, health and economic consequences of this are not good", she notes.

The danger

What most women fail to understand is that these pills are supposed to be used during emergencies only and not as a birth control method. Another issue that most women don’t know is that the constant use of emergency pills could actually increase one’s chances of getting pregnant. Dr Monda notes that women who use the emergency pill regularly in place of other methods of contraception increase their chances of getting pregnant making the pills work on the converse purpose.

She advises against the regular use of these morning after pills pointing out that it disrupts a woman’s regular menstrual cycle and therefore one can never be quite sure after using it when you are safe and can have intercourse without getting pregnant.

Great concern

"If you are regularly sexually active and wish to avoid pregnancy, you need to use a regular ongoing method of contraception like condoms, which provides safety both from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases," she adds.

Research shows young women start their sexual lives at about the age of 16 and they are starting without correct information and without knowing what the options are.

Besides the normal side effects, like nausea, heavy bleeding and cramps, regular use of the emergency contraception may cause infertility and in some instances increase the risk of cancer.

"Widespread misuse or abuse of the morning-after pill is of great concern as many young people are now using the e-pill routinely, some even buying the pills in advance," notes Dr Osur.

Dr Osur discourages this habit saying it encourages people to have unprotected sex and risk getting sexually transmitted diseases.

Dr Monda notes that the emergency contraceptive pill contains the hormone progestogen similar to the natural progesterone secreted by the ovaries.

Immediate consequence

The most often used pills is the ‘Morning After Pill’, also called the E-pill or P-2 which is readily available in most pharmacies in the country and is now being widely abused.

"Men who are carrying emergency pills or even buying them for their women are acting responsibly but they should be made to understand that the other conventional methods of contraceptives work better for safety," adds Dr Monda.

Dr Josephine Njoroge of Liverpool VCT notes that most women tend to think that pregnancy is a more immediate consequence than HIV. Most people have the misperception that HIV is a disease that affects other people, and not them, that is a low perceived risk of getting infected with HIV versus a high perceived risk of getting pregnant.

She says the emergency pills should not be used as an alternative to the use of other contraceptives such as condoms as they do not protect one against sexually transmitted diseases.