When I think about birth control I associate the feelings of safety, choice and being educated. Since the very first method* of birth control the human population has come a long way. Not only in various methods available to females (and males), but also in the level of education, understanding and research being conducted and made available to the general public.
I don’t profess to know everything about every type of birth control available. Rather, like many people (I suspect) I consume information that is relevant to me at the time. I often turn a blind eye to the noise that surrounds the information that is going to help me and forget about the rest. Call it magnetic tunnel vision.
Recently a headline by Refinery29 caught my eye: Their Doctors wouldn’t listen so they took their fight to the FDA. I clicked it and the contents truly shocked me. Give it a read and then meet me back here.
The 4884 words penned by Mia Garchitorena documents a case that a group of women brought to the FDA. Their case was against Bayer for adverse reactions they suffered after getting Essure.
To start, I didn’t know what Essure was. I most certainly did not know it was an option available in South Africa. All I knew is that it made me afraid.
In case you sit where I did, here are some things to know about Essure
- Essure is a non-hormonal permanent birth control medical device manufactured by Bayer.
- It is the only FDA-approved method of permanent birth control with a non-surgical procedure.
- The device consists of a set of small metal coils which are placed in the fallopian tubes.
- It was approved by the FD? in 2002.
- Since it was approved, “thousands of American women have come forward with stories of injuries and malfunctions related to the device.”
- Bayer say; “ESSURE® has been researched for over a decade which has resulted in many scientific publications establishing the safety and efficacy of ESSURE®.”
- The women in the Refinery29 piece speak of how Essure has ruined their lives.
Naturally I approached Bayer South Africa to get their side of the story.
Bayer invited me to their roundtable on Modern Contraception and Women’s Health. My questions were graciously answered (albeit in a very carefully crafted format). I was also given the press release on the outcome of the case in the US.
What I learned about Essure
I learned that Essure in South Africa is not scheduled or regulated. It is a medical device. Currently medical devices are not regulated in South Africa.
I learned that they have ‘rarely received cases reported’. Meaning there have been reports. The existence of the Essure Problems Facebook group South Africa edition indicates it is affecting some South African women negatively.
I learned that even though they were ‘unable’ to share country-specific numbers, almost 1 million Essure devices have been sold worldwide. South African women continue to choose it as a form of permanent contraception.
I learned that despite the number of complaints, the court case and negative press Bayer still stand firmly behind their product.
“ESSURE® remains an important permanent birth control option with a positive benefit-risk profile. ESSURE® has been researched for over a decade which has resulted in many scientific publications establishing the safety and efficacy of ESSURE®. We believe that ESSURE® is a useful addition to the currently available contraceptive options for females requiring sterilization and continues to be one of the most common birth control methods globally.”
I learned that despite their firm stance, they aren’t taking the effects of the negative press lightly.
“Bayer is particularly concerned about statements that may be creating an atmosphere of unfounded fear, or that may be encouraging women who are not experiencing adverse symptoms from Essure to seek removal of Essure.”
At the Bayer round table there were two themes that came through all the presentations and discussions. These themes tied together how one should approach this topic.
- Education is lacking and is important. It is our responsibility to ourselves to learn about what we put into and do to our bodies. Before we make life altering choices.
- There is no medication/ procedure that comes without any risk. Medication and procedures should be selected when the benefits to you outweigh the possible risks. (Think chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer.) In order to do this, we need to educate ourselves. We rely on medical opinion when making important decisions that affect ourselves. How often do we take a step back and get an all-round understanding, so that we too can weigh in on decisions that affect our lives and bodies?
I may have learned enough about Essure to be certain it is something I personally would never choose for myself or recommend. But, in reading the US press release, there was a paragraph that stood out to me as profound.
“Choice of contraception and the decision to use a permanent method is a very personal one that should be made between a woman, her partner and her healthcare provider. Not every option is right for every woman. This is why choice is so critical. Tubal ligation and, actually, pregnancy itself, carry risks, which can be serious.”
What do you think about Essure? I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop them in the comments below.
*FYI it was 2000BC, Egypt. A pessary of honey, sodium carbonate and crocodile dung was inserted before sex. (Crocodile dung was later found to possibly increase the likelihood of getting pregnant. Because of its effects on the body’s pH levels.). Source: Benefits and risks of modern contraceptives by Gené van den Ende, MedicalDirector at BayerSouth Africa
Feige is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to code things, design things, and all things beauty.