The pill creeps closer to contraceptive status

The Public Health Council drafted a report June 16 that effectively approves low-hormone birth control pills on condition that measures against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases be strengthened.

The council, comprising 17 academics and medical experts, concluded in its third meeting that it is difficult to determine the pill’s effect on trends in sexually transmitted diseases using other nations’ data, and proper education about diseases is more important. The six-page report, finalized in front of more than 60 observers including members of women’s organizations, lists conditions for approving the pill. The key conditions are better public education on sexually transmitted diseases, physicians’ training on the pill’s prescription and surveys on sexually transmitted diseases following the pill’s approval.

“(With this report) we have cleared a big hurdle,” said Dr. Kunio Kitamura, director of the Japan Family Planning Association. “From now on, the ministry is likely to smoothly move toward approving the pill,” Kitamura said. Approval ends nearly seven years of deliberations.

After a study group of the Central Pharmaceutical Affairs Council submitted a report in February confirming the safety and efficacy of low-hormone pills, the council’s special committee consulted with the Public Health Council before passing the report on to the standing committee, the final stage before Health and Welfare Minister Junichiro Koizumi could approve the pill. The government almost gave a green light to the pill in 1992, but plans were halted that year when the council pointed out that approval “would reduce the use of condoms and might lead to a quicker spread of AIDS.”

Deliberations resumed in 1995 after immunology data released overseas showed that lifting the ban on the pill would not directly accelerate the spread of AIDS. Although the Public Health Council’s report brings the plan to the final stage, Yuriko Ashino, head of the Japan Family Planning Federation, said approval will not be immediate. “Some parts of the report can be interpreted in two ways. It sounds like the council is in favor of the pill, but in fact it states conditions such as first educating the public about sexually transmitted diseases, which will delay the approval,” she said.