By Kavitha Rao
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Three years ago emergency contraception became available over the counter in India and now doctors there say it's being misused. The solution, according to a tabloid sex columnist: more sex ed and better product information.
MUMBAI, India (WOMENSENEWS)--First the iPod, now the i-pill.
Until 2005, emergency contraception in India was relatively scarce because it was available only by prescription and little known.
But that year the government made the so-called morning-after pill available over the counter.
In August 2007, Indian pharmaceutical giant Cipla launched the i-pill, a single-dose morning-after pill available for around $1.80. Around 200,000 units of the drug have been sold every month since its launch.
Doctors such as Mumbai gynecologist Dr. Ashwini Bhalerao Gandhi worry about the strong sales. "I see young, unmarried girls taking the i-pill as many as three to four times a month. Sometimes, their boyfriends even call to ask if it is OK to take the i-pill before sex."
Other doctors leaven that concern by acknowledging the drug's role in reducing the country's abortion rate.
"We gynecologists pressured the government to make emergency contraceptives available over the counter because many Indian women, especially those in rural areas, endured botched abortions in unsanitary conditions," says Dr. Duru Shah, another Mumbai gynecologist. "The morning-after pill may be misused by some women, but is a huge blessing for the majority,"
Cipla's marketing campaign includes TV and print ads of attractive married couples using it responsibly.
But in interviews gynecologists, pharmacists and counselors say that many young people are using morning-after pills on a regular, not emergency, basis.
The i-pill TV ads do carry a warning in small print stating that it should be used only as an emergency contraceptive to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex and that it does not protect against AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.
Dr. Bhalerao Gandhi says the warnings should be more emphatic. "I think the ads need to carry a clear, bold warning that the i-pill should not be used as a routine contraceptive."
Dr. Jaideep Gogtay is head of medical services at Cipla, based in Mumbai, formerly Bombay. "The ad campaign is just a part of the whole strategy," he says. "We also have a helpline and a Web site which give information about the i-pill and the package clearly says it should only be used in an emergency."
Doctors say that many users nonetheless rely on recommendations from their friends and don't take the instructions on the package seriously.
On the Internet, teens with usernames like "Scared Soul" and "Terrified" plead for information about the i-pill, some confessing to taking it five or six times a month.
"I know many friends who take the i-pill four times a month, because they don't know any better," says a 22-year-old advertising professional, who says she has used it three times when she'd run out of other contraceptives. She asked to have her name withheld.
"Even educated girls confuse the i-pill with regular co