Dismantling Barriers to Access the Morning-after Pill

Posted On December 6, 2019

Jibes that customer rights have been thrust back and given no importance have come into the spotlight following news that women are still facing issues when asking for the morning-after pill.

Some took to social media to express their dissatisfaction and breaching of their privacy when asked questions of a personal nature by pharmacists before being sold the pill

Medicinal societies, representing medical professionals, like gynecologists, pharmacists and pediatricians, favor making emergency contraceptives available over the counter, since the drugs are supposed to be taken within five days following unprotected sex for them to be effective.

But should we change tack and remove all barriers to access the pill?
A young female who expressed her desire to remain anonymous argued, “I have no problem in buying certain pills over the counter, however when I had to buy this pill I was confronted by a male pharmacist and certain questions which he was obliged to ask made me feel uncomfortable”. She argued that she also felt uncomfortable buying a pregnancy test over the counter, let alone the morning-after pill.

Dr Philip Sciortino a medical practitioner was asked for his take on this dilemma. On whether questioning the client prior to handing over the pill was necessary, he said ‘yes, such questioning is’. Before administering the pill, medical practitioners have to check things out.

“This pill has its own risks,” he said. “We’re not handing over Smarties”. One of the most dangerous side effects of this medication is thrombosis. Pharmacists need to understand the patient’s mental capacity before administering such medication. Consumers need to understand what they are getting hold of and its possible effects.

Can a man ask to buy the morning-after pill? Dr Sciortino said this could be done but added the caveat “questions also need to be asked to a male, requesting to buy the pill.” Was there such a need for what seems like a regimental procedure, I asked.
“Yes, there is because there are huge risks. There could be instances, where a man would ask for the pill after having had intercourse with an underage girl. Another risk is that there could be certain abuse, for example, males having non-consensual sex with vulnerable persons. Allowing males to buy the pill might provide the perfect cover for wrong doings”.

“My wife doesn’t feel comfortable buying these pills over the counter. She feels ashamed”, argued a young male who wished to remain anonymous. When asked, about his opinion on the possible risks that the doctor earmarked, if men can purchase the pill, he sternly argued, “If someone has done something wrong, I’ll doubt he’ll go to a doctor or pharmacist that knows him”.
Is having pharmacists providing the pill over the counter the right practice? “Pharmacists are medically knowledgeable and professionally capable, there’s no denying that fact. The doctor-patient relationship is, however, far better than a simple over the counter interrogation.” A doctor is better equipped to earmark diverse medical risks and provide “continuity of care to the patient”, Dr. Sciortino argued.

Additionally, Dr Sciortino believes that in these situations “trust is an important factor. Doctors may be more familiar with their patients’ medical records, therefore, it is easier to trust the patient in certain situations”.

Privacy of medical data seems to top the arguments against an over-the-counter administrative approach. What about pharmacists and privacy rights? “I hope that pharmacies are well equipped and can protect privacy. It depends on the context. If they can provide consultation in a secure environment, they might as well administer the pill.”

When the female was asked, whether in her opinion, it is better to go to a doctor and buy the pill via a prescription, without any questions asked in a covert ambient, she understandably replied, “ Yes. I think that’s a better approach, if no questions are asked in front of other customers”.

When administering drugs related to sexual practices, “privacy and confidentiality are divine patient’s rights, which need to be upheld,” the doctor said. These rights “are best preserved within the doctor-patient relationship, in a private clinic where patients can have an intimate discussion with their doctor.”

Written by Emma Asciak


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