Category "women's reproductive health"


‘We’ve had people at our door in tears’: COVID-19 adds barriers to sexual health resources – National

by BBG Hub

For two weeks, Ryan Hook and his partner have been trying to book an appointment with a sexual health clinic in Victoria, B.C.

The clinic operates on a day-by-day basis and doesn’t take waitlists. By 7:30 a.m., Hook says all the slots are already booked.

He tried sending the clinic an email, only to receive an automated response informing him the clinic’s inbox was full.

READ MORE: Experts say women shouldn’t put off sexual health care during coronavirus pandemic

“Our only other option at this point was going to the emergency (room),” he said. “So we’d be waiting for a long time and there’s other things to factor in like COVID-19.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased barriers to sexual health resources, experts say, with many clinics either reducing their hours and services or closing their doors altogether.

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But another large factor in accessibility to sexual health care is a change in available resources.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Advocates warn limited health services may lead to unplanned pregnancies

Nicole Pasquino, the clinical practice director at Options for Sexual Health in Vancouver, says many nurses who work in sexual health clinics are also working in hospitals and administering vaccines for COVID-19.

In addition to this, she adds labs used to process sexually transmitted infections (STI) tests are working overtime to also manage COVID-19 tests. As a result, tests are coming in much later and people can’t access services in a time-sensitive way.

“They’re so exhausted … and what we’re seeing is our health-care system stretched to the max,” she said.

“When you talk about these hundreds of thousands of vaccinations that are happening — well, what is being missed? In order for these vaccinations to be had, something has to be put on the back burner.”

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Closures create trickle-down-effect on health care

Taryn Wahl, an education coordinator at Planned Parenthood based in Regina, Sask., says the closures of family physicians’ offices have been pushing new patients to their clinic.

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The limited capacity and in-person services have created weeks of backlogged appointments, leaving those trying to access birth control vulnerable.

READ MORE: COVID-19: World’s biggest condom producer warns of global shortage

She says intrauterine devices (IUDs) are the most effective method of emergency contraception, but when people pick up the IUD from a pharmacist, they are struggling to get an appointment within the seven-day window it needs to be used.

Wahl adds that the inability to access birth control can lead to more unplanned pregnancies — causing a trickle-down effect.

Access to abortion has been maintained across Canada, since it was deemed an essential service early on in the pandemic.

READ MORE: The Pill was legalized 50 years ago, but experts say we can still improve contraceptive access

However, there is currently no data on the number of abortions conducted in the past year since there is often a two year delay on information. 

“All I know is that it seems like the rates and the people who are requesting pregnancy termination and the systems within that are much higher than it used to be,” said Wahl.

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Britt Neron, the health promotion officer at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, says people in the sexual health sector are bracing for the impacts of the current lack of resources.

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“And all these barriers are significantly more pronounced for people in violent home situations, those without provincial or territorial health coverage and those without access to public transit or vehicles,” Neron said.

Barriers for marginalized communities

In Vancouver, Pasquino says populations who were already vulnerable are suffering the most during the COVID-19 pandemic because they have the least access to care.

Financial stress caused by the pandemic can also force people to neglect their sexual health needs, she adds.

“We’ve had people at our door in tears. Like ‘Should I buy my birth control this month, or should I buy my food next week?” she said.

Though it varies from province to province, many sexual health clinics aren’t currently offering routine screening or most STI testing, reducing their services to high-risk clients and relying on Telehealth services.

“But maybe you don’t have a phone, right? Maybe you’re used to accessing through your school-based clinic which no longer operates? Maybe you don’t have a secure place where you can call someone?” Pasquino said.

READ: Can I have sex in self-isolation? Navigating pleasure during the coronavirus outbreak

She adds while abortion services are still active and available, accessibility decreases when you take into account things like lockdowns or people with precarious immigration status.

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Additionally, people experiencing trauma or violence within their relationships can face more barriers to accessing care.

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A United Nations Population Fund projection released in May last year that said 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence worldwide “can be expected if the lockdown continues for at least six months.”

Global News previously reported that support centres and shelters have been grappling with the problem of safety for people experiencing domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: When home isn’t safe: How coronavirus puts neighbours on front lines of abuse

People are being told to stay at home, but their homes may not be safe.

Pasquino recently had one patient who received a birth control shot and expressed how thankful she was that the centre was open.

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“And the reason that this individual accesses birth control this way is because their partner won’t allow them to be on birth control … So for that person, it’s a huge safety issue,” she said.

Pasquino adds that though the system is stretched, people still need to think actively about their sexual health since things like STIs and unplanned pregnancies don’t go away during a pandemic.

“Sexual health impacts all people at all stages in their life. And so we need to try to ensure that that doesn’t get interrupted to keep some kind of normalcy in people’s health.”

— With files from Jane Gerster 

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Teen birth control pill use linked to adult depression, but don’t ditch them yet: experts – National

by BBG Hub

Women who used oral contraceptives as teenagers are at a greater risk of depression as adults, according to a new Canadian study, but experts say don’t jump off the pill wagon yet.

The researchers surveyed more than 1,200 women and grouped them into three categories – those who used hormonal birth control pills as teenagers, those who used as adults only, and those who never used them at all.

They found that women who used the pill as teens were between 1.7 and three times more likely to develop clinical depression than women who never used the pill.

The risk was consistent even years after first use – when women had stopped taking the pill.

The current way oral birth control is prescribed can be costly, ineffective: study

Lead researcher Christine Anderl, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s psychology department, said the relationship between the pill and depression also went unchanged when other factors – like smoking history and age of first sexual intercourse – were controlled.

However, she stressed that these findings do not prove that one causes the other.

“It’s impossible to say anything about causality just based on this data,” she told Global News. “None of these variables explain the link, but that doesn’t mean that we might not have unintentionally missed the real thing.”

Anderl said studies on animals have shown changes to sex hormones during puberty can have an “irreversible” impact, but studies on humans are “less clear.”

WATCH: Are fewer women using birth control pills?

While there appears to be a wave of women choosing to get off the pills, Anderl said that the findings shouldn’t deter people from the method.

She hopes the study fosters more discussion about the pros and cons of contraceptives of all kinds.

“The pill does have very obvious benefits.

“I think it’s a very personal choice for each woman,” she said. “Some options might just be better for one young woman than the other.”

Dr. Dustin Costescu, a family planning specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at McMaster University, agrees.

He suggested the study be taken with a grain of salt.

“Nobody is questioning the importance of birth control,” he told Global News.

“I think this study adds validation that if you’re having mood effects related to hormonal contraception use, there may be a better or different option out there for you.”

You can skip the sugar pills in your birth control, and choose to have fewer periods

This isn’t the first time researchers have looked at a possible link between the two.

In 2016, a Danish study surveyed more than one million women and found a link between women currently on the pill and an increased risk for depression. The same study, considered to be the largest on the topic to date, showed the link was particularly strong in teens.

Costescu said the problem with studies on this topic is how common both the pill and depression are in people independently.

“Birth control is one of the most commonly prescribed medications globally. Depression is well known to be what’s called multifactorial in nature,” he said.

“It’s hard to study things that everyone’s using against an illness that’s very common and caused by multiple factors.”

WATCH: Five factors that can impact the effectiveness of your birth control

Oral contraceptives come in a variety of hormonal strengths and are not always prescribed strictly to prevent pregnancies. The women surveyed in the UBC study were not asked about the type of pill they were using, so that was not factored into this study. The data also did not show whether the risk of depression increased for women who took the pill for a longer period of time, past adolescence.

Anderl said their research is just “one piece of a much larger picture” and that further study is needed on the long-term effects.

The team has launched a follow-up study which will look at hormone levels of women aged 13 to 15 over several years. Along with looking at a link to depression, the new study will delve into the type of pill or hormone level and the reasons why the teens are taking them.

“It [the new study] won’t allow us to say whether the relationship is causal or not,” Anderl said, “but at least it will tell us what comes first in these women – is it that they first use birth control pills and then get depressed? Or is it the other way around?”

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As the UBC researchers point out, oral contraceptives are particularly popular among teens. In the U.S., more than half of sexually active women aged 15 to 19 use the pill. In Canada, oral contraceptive use has dropped, according to a survey by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, as more women rely on other forms.

Though the age of first sexual intercourse hasn’t changed, women are choosing to prevent pregnancies longer than in the past, Costescu said.

This means young women are on birth control pills for longer.

“We need to meet their goals and expectations,” he said, “which is a decade of not getting pregnant.”

The doctor’s advice for those experiencing mood changes on the pill – talk to a doctor first.

“With this study, it doesn’t mean stop the medication right now. It means have a conversation first.”

“I can tell you there is a method of risk control out there for everybody,” Costescue said. “The key is to have the conversation, listen to what the goals are, and find the right one.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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