Doctors Warn of Rising ‘Morning-After Pill’ Use, Abuse in Burma

Boxes of the contraceptive Postinor-2 are seen inside a safe at a public health clinic. (Photo: Reuters)

Boxes of the contraceptive Postinor-2 are seen inside a safe at a public health clinic. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — Medical professionals in Burma have used a government report indicating a rise in sales of emergency contraceptive pills to highlight the health risks of the pharmaceuticals’ abuse.

A paper included in a recently held medical forum said use of pills to prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse was increasing in Burma. The research, by the Ministry of Health’s Department of Medical Research, was small in scope, conducted over a year in 2012-13 in one central Burma town. Researchers asked 67 pharmaceutical shop owners in Mandalay Division’s Pyin Oo Lwin Township about customers and sales of the pills. According to the research, most users are teenagers, with sellers reporting that girls as young as 14 years old were purchasing the pill.

In Burma, the emergency contraceptives, also known commonly as “morning-after pills,” are legally imported by licensed pharmaceutical importers and there are no restrictions in place on sales of the pill. More than 80 percent of the pills in Pyin Oo Lwin were sold without doctor’s instructions and health warnings, the research said.

The pills contain hormones and are designed to disrupt the ovulation or fertilization that is required for impregnation to occur. Users are advised to take the pill within 72 hours of having unprotected sex, but the sooner a woman takes the pill, the more likely it is to work.

Because the pill is not 100 percent effective regardless of when it is taken, medical professionals stress the “emergency” aspect of its use, and say it should not be considered a regular form of contraception.

Dr. Ma Thida, a physician at Rangoon’s Thukha free clinic and editor of the People’s Image journal, said the rise in emergency contraceptives’ use should be an issue of national concern, representing a threat to both health and morality.

“It means there are a lot of users of these emergency pills, young girls are having sex dismissively, because they don’t know the side effects and only know these pills can protect against unexpected pregnancy,” Ma Thida said, adding that such sexual behavior marked a “deviation from tradition and custom.”

“These pills are for emergency cases, not for regular use. It’s a kind of hormone control, so if girls are regularly using it, it can have many side effects. For example, if they later want to have a baby after they are married, it can be harder to conceive. Another issue is the pill does not prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases,” she said.

Ma Thida said the government should tighten regulation of the pills’ sale, including requiring that warnings about their possible side effects and physicians’ instructions be included in the labeling of the product.

Dr. Than Htut, a Myanmar Medical Association central executive committee member, said Burmese people needed better sex education, but traditionally conservative mores often meant parents and teachers shied away from the subject with children.

“Parents and teachers are responsible for educating their children, and though we shouldn’t compare with other Western countries for extreme sex education, we need more awareness among our society,” he said.

Unlike many Western countries, abortion is illegal in Burma, upping the stakes for any girl or woman who finds herself pregnant unintentionally.

Than Htut said he was concerned that use of the pill was widely misunderstood to include protections that other contraception, such as condoms, does provide, namely preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Echoing Ma Thida’s call for greater government regulation, Than Htut added that the Ministry of Health should embark on an awareness campaign to educate the public about emergency contraception.

Nandar, a drug store sales associate in Rangoon’s North Dagon Township, said most buyers were male but acknowledged that teenage girls would also sometimes purchase the emergency pills.

“There are at least three kinds of brands for emergency use, for one it costs under 1,000 kyats [US$1]. Ecee 2 and Postinor brands are in highest demand,” she said.

3 Responses to Doctors Warn of Rising ‘Morning-After Pill’ Use, Abuse in Burma

  1. Very complicated issue indeed. No one, even parents, can control teenagers to to stay away from sexual activities. If these teenagers are not allowed to get Morning-After Pills, many babies will be born to unfit mothers, and many teenagers will drop out of schools. So, free condoms must be distributed to those who care themselves. Sex education is supposed to be taught at home by parents and at schools by teachers. It is nothing wrong to learn, to know and to understand. The lack of education on sex is as bad as living animals’ life. Mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. Necessary knowledge and education must be passed on from parents to children, and from teachers to pupils.

  2. Talking sex in society is a taboo in Burma for a long time.The problem is that how do we change that taboo?Most of the Burmese men use without condom..thinking more pleasurable.
    Burma depended condom supply from Bangladesh where it seemed to have international aid for birth control.I heard condoms are free in that country.Those free condoms were smuggled into Burma and spreaded thru out the country.The brand named Raja is so widespread that raja is slang name for condom.
    We got in trouble when we would like to study sex education in younger age..the problem was that where we did get that kind of Info’s.As for me I got the idea that is to watch a porno film.
    Owning porno materials such as books ,films were illegal,luckily I met a guy in my school who charged and organized the people who haven’t ever seen such film in their entire lives.He took us a safe house,waiting for 15 mins.There was a small white cloth hanging on the wall,no projector.. the situation made us worrying we were already cheated.His partners brought the projector and tapes in rush manner just before the show time and set the projector in place and said us not to make any noises. That movie itself had no sound ,we all were silent but heard the the strong breathing sound of neighbors who sat right next to us.
    There are millions of Burmese who haven’t ever seen such films just for the purpose of getting sexual education.We need a hero who will lead us in. teaching sex education.Because it causes risks in our health if we don’t know it properly.
    In the whole Asia,according to my knowledge,there were only 2 persons who pioneered the sex education to encourage the use of condoms.
    One was the former mayor of Bangkok ,the other one was Madam Kato from Japan.Ms.Kato became a giant in Japan and her effort was marvelous among the shy Japanese.
    Burma will have to long way to go.At least for now,they should experience watching the film.At first,especially ,the girls,they might cover their faces with both hands,but their fingers are spreading and their eyes are wide open .seeing it thru the fingers.LOL.

  3. Because of lack of education some buy Postinor to make ready for the ocassion or some keep them as single dose pills.Why not we get the help of pharmacist. They can provide free condom and phamlet educating that Postinor is not contrasive and condom is safer. I meant for totally ignorant couple. Many people that morning after pill is a safe contraceptive.

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