Pills may prevent teen pregnancy, but what about STDs?
By Ajita Rijal
Kathmandu, May 10: Sexually active teenagers are said to be using emergency contraceptive pills to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Commonly known as morning-after or post-coital pills that come with different brand names, these are easily available at pharmacies and most seem to buy it without a doctor’s prescription. If taken within 72 hours, these pills can prevent pregnancy from unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.
“I feel it fine to buy and use emergency pills because I am not going to talk to my parents or friends about my sexual activity,” said Siwa Sharma (name changed), 18, a student.
“Morning pills are easily available at nearby pharmacies,” she said. “They answer my urgency to prevent unwanted pregnancies.”
Like Sharma, teenagers visiting or calling the Marie Stopes Nepal, a social organisation providing safe abortion, contraception and family planning services, generally inquire about the consequences of sexual activities.
They ask about contraceptive pills, early morning pills and abortion pills, according to Ursula Utsaha Singh, Youth and Marketing Manager at the Marie Stopes. “Most of the visitors or callers seeking to avail of our services, however, do not reveal their actual age,” she added.
“The highest number of morning pill users are high school and college girls,” said a pharmacist at Teku in Kathmandu. These teenagers visit the pharmacies in the evening and ask for the morning pills, according to pharmacists.
“The number of teen abortion cases in government hospitals has been decreasing of late, possibly due to the increasing availability of contraception and easier access to emergency pills at the pharmacies and medical stores,” said Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, a gynecologist at Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital in Kathmandu.
The use of emergency pills is good, he said, but their rampant use suggests something needs to be done in the interest of public health.
When abortion was still not legal in Nepal most of the cases of illegal abortion were on the rise and now after its legalisation, the service seekers may have become more relaxed and thus are neither adopting safe practices nor seeking counseling from service providers, said Dr. Gautam.
“Awareness about the side effects of the excessive use of emergency contraceptive pills and unsafe sexual practices is urgent to reduce the misuse of the pills among the teenagers,” said Dr. Gautam and added “The pharmacies providing the pills without prescription will have adverse impact on many young and vulnerable women.”
Mobile technology and easy internet access have encouraged young people to engage in unprotected sex and then rely on emergency contraceptive pills, Dr. Ashmi Bhandari, a gynecologist at the People’s Medical College, said.
She added that the increase in emergency contraception use among sexually active teens was likely due to advertisements about the pills disseminated through the media. Teenagers can buy the pills from nearby pharmacies without the need to see a doctor, Dr. Bhandari said, adding, but they seem unaware that the pill does not protect them from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/ AIDS.
“We all must encourage young people to talk with parents and get counseling from their doctors and service providers before using emergency contraceptives,” she added.