Thursday, November 12, 2009

Will India ever grow up?

The idea of making over-the-counter emergency contraceptive pills a prescription drug was preposterous, I feel. It would’ve defeated the purpose of emergency contraception.

I do appreciate the issue at the root of the debate. Young women, especially teenagers, are using EC as normal contraception and not something to be relied on in case of an emergency only. As a consequence of this pill abuse, teenagers are ending up at gynecologist’s offices with serious menstrual & reproductive problems in larger numbers than before.

On their part, the companies that manufacture these pills place adequate warnings in the booklet that comes along with each pill, saying that the pill should be consumed only if there’s an emergency and not as a normal mode of contraception. But their easy availability combined with the fact that many youngsters dislike using protection and would like to just "get it on" without worrying about the consequences of unprotected sex, are resulting in pill abuse. Naturally, "responsible adults" are worried. (Though I wonder whether these responsible adults are genuinely worried about the health of these young women or the degenarating "morals" of young India).

However, the answer to this problem does not lie in taking away the pill's OTC status. That would cause more harm than good, not to mention that it would impact even genuine users. I feel there are other ways of combating this problem of pill abuse:

  1. The Govt. has already asked all companies manufacturing the pill to clearly & openly state the harmful effects resulting from pill abuse in their advertisements. The companies should also mention those on the outside of the box. This will go a long way in deterring irresponsible use of the pill.
  2. I’m not even going to get started on the attitude of Indian parents when it comes to educating their kids on sex. I can go on & on about that. But what horrifies me is that most gynecologists in the country also adopt a very censuring attitude towards sex when dealing with unmarried women. They make it sound like the woman has committed the ultimate sin by becoming sexually active before marriage! I think this kind of attitude is completely unnecessary – doctors are professionals and their job is to treat the patient, not to lecture her on "morals" or judge her character. They are supposed to be a source of support for women. Counseling on healthy sexual practices is OK, lecturing them on morals is not. And I think, apart from the general lack of awareness regarding safe sexual practices & sexual health, this reproachful attitude from parents as well as doctors is one of the main reasons why there are so many abortions & cases of cervical cancer in our country, even among the educated lot

I’m glad the authorities decided that emergency contraception should retain its OTC. It is upon us as parents, teachers, doctors etc. to make teenagers aware of the harmful effects of abusing the pill, and for teenagers to understand that they might ruin their long-term prospects of bearing children by doing so. Especially since Indian society is so hung up on procreating. But the question for both sides of the line is - will we ever grow up?