Philippines rushes to distribute old contraceptives

Court lifts ban after govt's food and drug agency declares they do not induce abortions
Philippines rushes to distribute old contraceptives

Filipinos can now access free contraceptives from government health centers following the lifting this week of a court order banning the distribution of family planning supplies. (Photo by Karl Romano)

The Philippines is rushing to distribute old stocks of contraceptives before their expiration date after the country's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared them "non-abortifacient."

The decision came despite opposition from Catholic priests and bishops who describe contraceptives as a "grave moral evil."

President Rodrigo Duterte, a fierce critic of Catholic Church leaders, promised after being elected last year to provide free contraceptives to women as part of his reproductive health program.

A 2015 court decision suspending the distribution of contraceptives — particularly Implanon and Implanon NXT — pending their recertification as non-abortifacients, delayed the program.

While waiting for the recertification, about US$4.9-million worth of contraceptives that will expire by 2018 remained in Department of Health warehouses around Metro Manila.

Father Melvin Castro, of the bishops' Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the FDA decision disregarded medical findings that say otherwise.

There are medical studies showing the contraceptives, especially Implanon, are abortifacients or induce abortion through chemical means, the priest said.

"It is very sad. The FDA disregarded these medical findings."

Bishop Arturo Bastes expressed hope that medical experts will "demonstrate scientifically" that most contraceptives on the market induce abortion and ruin the health of women.

"The Supreme Court should keep its [temporary restraining order] and make permanent the prohibition," said the prelate.

Father Jerome Secillano of the public affairs office of the bishops' conference said the government's reproductive health program is not the answer to the country's maternal health problems.

"Contraceptives can never be a panacea to women's health problems, over-population, and poverty," said the priest.

After the FDA decision, an estimated 250,000 contraceptive subdermal implants, which will expire in September 2018 and March 2019, can now be distributed to the public.

"It is now all systems go for the [Department of Health] to fully implement the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law," declared Health Secretary Francisco Duque.

He said about 1,000 implants will be inserted every day within the next 10 months as the Health department replenished its supply. 

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Duque said the distribution of about 261,000 implants, which are set to expire in September next year, would be prioritized.

According to the Health Department, current supplies of injectables will only hold out for six months.

The Population Commission noted that the family planning supplies would be used up before the expiration date because of the number of people who are interested in getting contraceptives.

"I think we have a good number of people who may be asking for these implants," said Doctor Juan Antonio Perez, executive director of the Commission on Population.

Perez said the two years that the court order was in place had likely resulted in 500,000 unplanned pregnancies.

The Philippines is ranked the 13th most populated country in the world, with an estimated 104.3 million people as of July.

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