Condoms are now the only solution for Egyptian women looking for contraceptives. Those in search for contraceptive pills are met with a single response: “Save yourself the effort, they have disappeared.”
Since March 2016, the phenomenon of the disappearance of contraceptives has swept Egypt's pharmacies. Amid a severe economic crisis, women were left in a bind, as the rate of clandestine abortions grew, amid the emergence of satirical ad campaigns promoting the use of condoms.
At a Cairo drugstore, pharmacist Marwa Nady said that the effect of the disappearance of contraceptives has left no family untouched, especially as most Egyptian women prefer using imported pills.
The pills began to gradually disappear at the beginning of 2016, however reaching a peak almost immediately after the flotation of the Egyptian pound. All pharmaceutical companies either import these medicines or their active ingredients. Worse, even the contraceptive injections have gone off shelves, further compounding the problem.
"Pharmacies get two or three packages of birth control pills per month," Nady said. "Sometimes, we do not even get any." She added that knowledge of these small stocks are usually reserved for their regular customers to maintain good relations with them.
Some have begun asking for condoms as an alternatives, she noted, yet, shortly thereafter, the prices of condoms also increased by up to 35%. "Prices will not go back to normal, and clients will have to endure the price difference alone," she stressed.
According to Laila Mokhtar, Consultant of Obstetrics and Gynecology at at charity organization, the crisis began as the upshot of a struggle that began in late 2016 between the Ministry of Health and private pharmaceutical companies, over the new prices of medicines. Drug companies have been trying to increase the prices of their medications by about 50%, in addition to a instituting periodical 15% increase. The government, on the other hand, has met such requests with intransigence, on the one hand refusing to come to decisive conclusion on the issue, and on the other failing to secure the missing medicines.
Mokhtar says she is at a loss for appropriate solutions to give the women who visit her, as the shortage has impacted injections too. "I cannot tell them to use old local products, considering their side effects, such as hypertension, severe headaches, hormone disorder, body aches and nausea," she said.
As Egypt's population skyrockets, its pharmacies have been struck with an unprecedented shortage of contraceptives
Egypt struggles for solutions in the wake of a birth control crisis
However, some women have no other alternatives but to resort to these outdated pills. "Yet, some do not even find those," she stressed. Mokhtar pointed out that she has been seeing a growing trend of accidental pregnancies, which—although unwanted—the women refuse to abort.
Children Are Precious, Condoms are Cheaper
In an attempt to exploit the crisis and raise sales rates, Durex launched an ad campaign promoting its products through a more pragmatic approach. The company attached an image of its condoms to slogans warning against unwanted pregnancies.
"If you think it is expensive, it is cheaper than other costs," one ad claimed.
In a reference to the serious risks posed by contraceptive injections, another ad warned that they can cause hemorrhaging.
The Black Market for Abortion Pills
When Mona Soliman, a mother of three, decided she did not want more children, she started using birth control pills, especially as her body rejected IUD more than once. About six months ago, Soliman could not find the brand she was accustomed to and she had to switch to another—until shortly thereafter, when all brands, including the three-month injections, were nowhere to be found.
Soliman discovered she was pregnant, and was unable to keep the pregnancy due to her family’s financial conditions. The family began looking for abortion pills until finally they located them on the black market, with the hefty price tag of 1,000 Egyptian pounds per strip. Finally she had to buy the pills and perform the abortion at home.
"We have reached a point where we are asking our friends abroad to buy contraceptives for us at any price," said Roweida Soliman. She explained that the price of one pack of birth control pills in Saudi Arabia has registered about $8 (150 Egyptian pounds), while the price in Egypt was previously only 30 Egyptian pounds ($1.6) and 70 Egyptian pounds ($3.7) on the black market until September 2016, before they disappeared entirely.
Soliman and her husband resorted to condoms, but the prices went up as well. When she tried the old pills, her health rapidly deteriorated and her doctor advised her to stop taking them immediately.
Amid all the chaos arises the inevitable question over the authorities’ strategy to resolve the problem, and their commitment to curbing birth rates, after decades of calls for family planning since the era of ousted president Hosny Mubarak.
This question is bound to be answered in the near future, as prices are expected to skyrocket by May 2017.