Pharmacies are doing a brisk trade in the morning-after pill, especially among teens. It seems that even though there is a high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, young people are still having unprotected sex and are concerned simply with preventing unwanted pregnancies.
A spot survey conducted by The Star of a number of pharmacies around Johannesburg, revealed that chemists are doing a roaring trade in the three available types of morning-after pill. E-GEN-C, NorLevo and Ovral 28 must be orally ingested by a woman within 72 hours of her having had unprotected sex. The pills can be obtained over the counter without prescription and it seems young women are taking advantage of this. Graham Naughtin, a pharmacist at the Cliffview Medicare Pharmacy at Cresta, says that about 70 boxes of the morning-after pill are sold every weekend.
While they are 90% effective in preventing pregnancy, they do not protect the user against any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or AIDS.A locum doctor at the Selgo Pharmacy in Braamfontein, Blessing Motgatlha, says she has noticed a 50% increase in the use of the morning-after pill in the past two years. Lipalesa Malebanye, a pharmacist at Bruma Pharmacy, says where condom usage has dropped, there is a notable increase in the use of the morning-after pill, especially by teenagers.
A teenager, who does not want to be named, says she has taken the morning-after pill four times this year alone. She adds that contracting an STI was not something she was concerned about at the time. While these drugs might prevent unwanted pregnancies, they do have side effects.
Professor Basil van Iddekinge, a gynaecologist at Wits Medical School, says the morning-after pill is not meant for continuous or repetitive use and he stressed that it is not a long-term contraceptive. A women should rather use a non-emergency, long-term type of contraceptive.
Van Iddekinge says one of the main problems of the morning-after pill is that it may alter the user's menstrual cycle. He explains the emergency pill is meant to be just that, used in an emergency. An emergency would be when the condom broke during intercourse, or perhaps when a woman has sex even though she did not intend to do so. Another emergency would be in the case of rape.
Meanwhile, loveLife CEO, David Harrison, says the awareness organisation has not picked up this trend. If this is the case, it is really worrying that young people are being more irresponsible in their sexual activities, he says. Harrison warns that youngsters should employ dual protection to prevent pregnancy and STIs.
The chief director of maternal, child and women's health unit in the department of health, Dr Eddie Mhlangu, holds Harrison's point of view. It's worrying, on the one hand, that people are not using condoms despite the threat of AIDS, while on the other, it is encouraging that it is cutting down on the number of unwanted pregnancies, he says. (Source: The Star, 14 April, 2003).