In Santiago, Chile, at least 170 women got pregnant after the government distributed defective contraceptive pills, CNN reports.
In March 2020, Tabita Daza Rojas, 29, discovered that she had an ovarian cyst, and her physician at that time worried that it was caused by her contraceptive implant.
The doctor at the local health clinic advised Rojas to take the pill instead and prescribed Anulette CD. She did not think much about the contraceptive switch as she had taken pills before and agreed that it made perfect sense for her health.
However, just five months after Rojas began taking Anulette, she found out she was pregnant again.
After seeing a post on Facebook, Rojas learned that her oral pills were from a defective batch that had been distributed by Chile’s public health authority, the Instituto de Salud Pública de Chile (ISP) the month before.
“I was about to finish the second [box of three prescribed] when I found out about the problem,” Rojas said, by the time she knew about the defect, she was already six weeks pregnant.
At the time of this writing, Rojas and at least 170 others claim that they got unexpectedly pregnant while taking Anulette CD. They do not have the option to legally abort their pregnancies but are preparing to file a lawsuit with Chilean sexual and reproductive rights group Corporación Miles representing them.
According to the manufacturer, the first batch —139,160 packs of Anulette pills — were recalled on August 24, 2020, after healthcare workers at a local clinic raised a complaint that they had found 6 packets of defective pills.
Based on the information from the ISP, the pills have been switched. The placebo (a blue pill) was found placed on where the active pills (a yellow pill) should be, and vice versa.
In an online notice published on August 29 last year, the ISP said that Silesia (the manufacturer of Anulette CD) had been notified and was withdrawing the faulty pills from local health centers.
A tweet was also posted from the official ISP account telling its followers about the recall. But without a nationwide campaign to reach and inform the public, the recall was left unnoticed.
On September 3, a week following the first recall, there were some more complaints in 6 packets from a different batch at a local clinic in Santiago, the ISP said. By the time the issue continues to escalate, Silesia said it had already distributed a total of 276,890 packs of Anulette CD to family planning centers across Chile.
At this time, the ISP said it would be suspending Silesia’s registration until the laboratory was able to improve its quality and production processes, but it was too little.
In a statement sent to CNN, the Ministry of Health said that they informed the public health service “to inform users of this situation and take pertinent actions,” and said that they provided support and counseling for reproductive health workers to support “women who may have been affected by problems in the quality of contraceptives.”
However, Rojas said she was only informed by her local clinic about the faulty pills after she went in for a prenatal checkup.
By then, it was left to Chilean civil society to inform the public and raise the alarm.
Miles, a sexual and reproductive rights group, ran a social media campaign and used its connections to make sure the recall is noticed.
“It was after [posting on Instagram] when we started receiving emails from people saying that they were already pregnant because they were consuming Anulette,” Laura Dragnic, Miles’ legal coordinator said.
According to Miles, the number of pregnant women who took Anulette CD now stands at 170, and Dragnic expects it to grow because rural women or those without internet or television access are still to be reached.
“We expect that there are many more women with this problem,” Dragnic said, “Especially because the State has not claimed any responsibility and has not made any statements or any serious compromises [to the abortion rules] for the affected women.”
Six months after the first recall, and a week after Mile’s spoke to CNN, Chilean health authorities announced that the makers of Anulette CD had been charged a series of fines amounting to 66.5m pesos or around USD $92,000.
Miles and their partners are still working together for the government to pay financial compensation to the affected women, and to provide access to safe and legal abortions for those who wish to end their pregnancy.