Health Canada’s lengthy approval process is restricting birth control options for Canadian women. Photo: CC, pixabay, Darko Stojanovic.
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Hormonal implants should be made available in Canada

There is a form of birth control out there that fits almost every woman’s lifestyle. Health Canada is making it impossible for some to access theirs.

Hormonal implants are matchstick sized plastic rods that are inserted into the arm. They release progestin for three years, stopping you from ovulating and keeping you baby-free. They don’t require you to remember to take or change them as the pill, patch and ring do. They don’t require you to have an expensive device placed inside your uterus like the IUD. They don’t require you to have a shot every three months, like Depo-Provera.

The implant is perfect for young women who don’t want to have the responsibility of taking or changing birth control, who don’t have the financial ability to afford an IUD, who don’t want the estrogen that Depo-Provera has, and who want to be discreet about their birth control, like many university students.

Hormonal implants are placed inside your arm, so they pose no physical risk to the reproductive organs. According to the Globe and Mail, hormonal implants are a very popular option among many European young women, and for good reason. They are discreet, reversible, work long-term, and are forgettable. At the time the article was published, hormonal implants were reported to be “used in 86 countries, including Australia, Denmark, Germany and Britain.” It’s also available in the United States, according to Planned Parenthood’s website. So why isn’t it available in Canada?

It comes down to the numbers.  

According to the Globe and Mail, “Merck, manufacturer of an implant called Nexplanon, recently submitted an application to bring the device to Canada, said Dr. Amanda Black, chair of the contraception awareness program at the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. But some of Merck’s clinical trial data was not recent enough to satisfy Health Canada.”

When the Globe and Mail article was written, in 2015, Nexplanon had already been on the international market for 17 years (it was first introduced as Implanon in 1998), “so it wasn’t financially feasible for Merck to conduct costly new clinical trials to satisfy the regulatory requirements of a small market such as Canada.”

I understand that Health Canada may have different standards than in other countries. But do they honestly believe that this company will undergo further expensive trials just to access the small market Canada offers? No. The product is already successful and proven to be effective and safe across the world, surely that’s good enough for Health Canada? Through barriers such as expensive clinical trials, Health Canada is effectively preventing the entrance of the implant to the Canadian market, which only serves to deprive young women of a safe and effective birth control option.