NEW DELHI: A survey to assess the availability of the medical abortion pills in six states has shown its acute shortage in most of the states, triggering concerns of a sharp rise in unwanted pregnancies in the coming months.
The study by the Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India (FRSHI) involving 1500 chemists found that there was an overwhelming shortage of the drugs in five out of the six states surveyed with abysmal stocking in Madhya Pradesh (6.5%), Punjab (1.0%), Tamil Nadu (2.0%), Haryana (2.0%), and Delhi (34.0%).
The only state that did okay was Assam (69.6%).
The non-stocking of medical abortion drugs seems to be linked to overregulation by drug control authorities, said authorities at the FRSHI, adding that about 79% of chemists no longer stock medical abortion drugs to avoid legal issues and excessive documentation requirements.
Also, 54.8% of chemists report that medical abortion drugs are over-regulated as compared to other Schedule H drugs. Even in Assam which has the highest stocking percentage, 58% chemists report overregulation of medical abortion drugs.
Across states, regulatory or legal barriers continue to be the major reason for not stocking medical abortion drugs, with 63% chemists in Haryana, 40% in Madhya Pradesh, 74% in Punjab and 79% in Tamil Nadu acknowleding this to be the reason.
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VS Chandrashekar, CEO of FRHSI and Pratigya Campaign Advisory Group member, said medical abortion has increasingly become the preferred method to terminate a pregnancy in India and the non-availability of drugs is threatening women's access to safe abortion.
"Evidence shows medical abortion drugs are a safe and effective means to terminate a pregnancy, their non-availability can potentially reverse the gains made by the country in reducing unsafe abortions, maternal mortality and morbidity," he said.
While the purpose of the study was to verify the availability of medical abortion drugs, the findings also revealed that emergency contraceptive pills are not being stocked by chemists in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Only 3% of the chemists surveyed in the state reported stocking emergency contraceptive pills. 90% of chemists not stocking the pills shared that the pills are banned in the state. Emergency contraceptive pills are non-prescription drugs and are also stocked and distributed by ASHAs under the National Family Planning Program.
Sources said that the primary reason for non-availability of medical abortion drugs seems to be the incorrect understanding that medical abortion combi packs can be used for gender-biased sex selection among regulatory officials.
Medical abortion combi pack is indicated for use only up to nine weeks while an ultrasound can detect the sex of the fetus at 13-14 weeks gestation.
"Hearteningly chemists do not seem to share this misconception, only about 10% chemists across the study states reported that medical abortion drugs can be used for sex-selective termination of pregnancy" said the survey report.
In Tamil Nadu however, 36% have this misunderstanding.