Letter 18: From Varuna

Dear Annie,

 

Reading your story, I realize there isn’t much difference between you and me.

You’re just a regular young woman who wanted to do some good in the world. You

loved your family, your friends and they loved you.

 

So why did this happen to you? Thinking more about this, given how many women

are prescribed birth control pills, it could have been my friend, my sister, my mother,

my patients or me.

 

During med school, I took up an avid interest in women’s health. I enjoyed my time

during my gynecology rotations, and I remember reading about progesterone

containing birth control pills. It had a laundry list of side effects. Despite knowing about the many side effects, we prescribed these same pills to many patients who came into our hospital clinic.

I never thought much of it till I was prescribed birth control for a hormonal condition. While it helped control the hormonal imbalance to a certain extent, I suffered through the side effects. My mental health deteriorated, I had severe acne, abdominal pain and I put on a lot of weight. I stopped taking them.

Fast forward to a couple of year later, I moved to America for grad school. I remember telling my physician here that I had this hormonal imbalance many years ago. They thought it was best to put me back on birth control. I trusted them, thinking this time would be different. It wasn’t. I stopped taking them again.

But, what about so many other patients to whom these pill were prescribed? Were they still suffering through these side effects? Did they know any better? How many of them died? I will never know. Looking back at these experiences, I thank my education for making me aware of the many side effects birth control pills have and to learn to listen to what my body is telling me, and to tell my patients to listen to their bodies.

But this information should be common knowledge. 98% of women in the US at some point have been on birth control. So, why are women still suffering? Why are women still dying as a result of this?

Often times in the medical world, doctors accept that medications carry a significant ‘risk’ and are comfortable prescribing dangerous medications such as Yaz. This is the culture that has been created around birth control pills. Pharmaceutical companies around the world have managed to side step these incidents as ‘one offs’ and have gotten off easy. Do we not deserve better? Do you not deserve better?

Standards around drug approvals need to be strengthened.  Health education should focus on telling women to be more in control of their body and their choices. We need to hold the  government regulatory bodies and pharmaceutical companies accountable for this. As a physician, my patients deserve a safe birth control pill.

Your death will not be in vain, Annie. Looking at your parents advocating for you, it is a reminder that you are still loved and your legacy will live on. It will live on through continued health education and information in this field.

I will continue to be an advocate for women’s health and I will never forget your story, Annie.

Sincerely,

 

Varuna

National Center for Health Research

1001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 1100

Washington, DC 20036

(202) 223-4000

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