A year after ban, Uganda battles unsafe Chinese contraceptive pill

A year after ban, Uganda battles unsafe Chinese contraceptive pill
The Chinese Pill tablet packaging, labelling and patient information leaflet are in the Chinese language except for the claimed ingredients –Levonorgestrel and Quinestrol, according to NDA. PHOTOS/ COURTESY

Kampala, Uganda | URN | A Chinese contraceptive pill with reported deadly adverse side effects has become even more popular ever since it got banned by government last year, the National Drug Authority (NDA) has said.

Dubbed the ‘Chinese pill’ because its packaging bears no English wording except Chinese writings, the contraceptive is being sold on the black market and goes through a chain of over 40 persons. According to NDA, the pill was found to contain high doses of hormones above the recommended dosage.

The risks associated with the use of this product (Chinese pill) include prolonged bleeding, irregular menstrual periods, palpitations, the possibility of blood clots and heart disease. It can also lead to cancer in the uterine area and infertility. NDA public relations manager Abiaz Rwamwiri says the distribution of the pill involves a complex racket.

“We even arrested one person, a boda-boda rider, but it was found that this was someone who was just delivering the pill, perhaps to a person unknown to him, and not even knowing where it came from,” said Rwamwiri.

He says one cannot just walk into a random pharmacy to get the pill but can be availed if one needs it. One pill costs between Shs 10,000 and Shs 15,000 each, compared to other available alternatives that cost around Shs 5,000 for a month’s dose.

Asked why one would go through all that trouble and expense to get the pill instead of using the legally acceptable ones, he said that its main advantage is because it can be taken once for a whole month, unlike the other available oral options that require daily consumption.

The regulator says that when used, the hormones from the pill take longer than should be in the body and this poses high risks to the baby born of a user mother, including secondary sexual characteristics like premature puberty.

“For example, there was a baby which got pubic hair at three years and because the mother had used this pill, it was most likely to be the cause,” Rwamwiri said.

By the time Uganda banned the pill, it had been banned in other countries long before. In Kenya, the ban came as long ago as 10 years after authorities realized that the levonorgestrel levels were “more than 40 times the recommended levels,” according to a report by BBC.

An online search of the two words on the packaging; Levonorgestrel and Quinestrol reveals that the pill contains Levonorgestrel Fast Estradiol tablets, according to the first line. The second line describes it as a long-acting oral contraceptive tablet, while the manufacturer is shown as Zizhu Pharmaceutical Co Ltd in the lower line.

A company with a similar name, Beijing Zizhu Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. was founded in 1980, and deals in the “manufacturing, fabricating, or processing of drugs in pharmaceutical preparations for human or veterinary use”. It is not clear whether the two are related.

Read Also: Abortion: The alternative contraceptive among youth in Uganda?

Medical records show that Levonorgestrel, also known as the morning-after pill, is a first-line oral emergency contraceptive pill with approval from the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent pregnancy.

It is effective if used within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse or when a presumed contraceptive failure has occurred. It is usually applied as a once-a-month dose tablet.

Quinestrol, the second ingredient that is sometimes stated as ethinylestradiol cyclopentyl and sold under the brand name Estrovis, has been used in menopausal hormone therapy, hormonal birth control, and treatment against breast and prostate cancers.