Contraceptive pills in Malta are often out of stock, even before the pandemic hit, but the current crisis is affecting supplies of the medicine more than ever.

22-year-old Amy Sultana was prescribed the contraceptive pill Qlaira for a skin condition, as doctors can prescribe the medicine beyond contraceptive reasons. After trying various birth control pills, including one that took her to hospital for immediate intravenous medication, Qlaira improved her condition and she has been taking it for ten months.

However, the pill has been out of stock in Malta since at least February, meaning Sultana has been left without the medicine for months. Moreover, swapping medication is no easy feat, as different hormones and dosages come with varying side-effects, which can be considerably harmful.

“Too many women like myself have our backs against the wall because of the situation. Why am I being prescribed medication that will soon end up out of stock to then change and change again?”

“Why do I have to be told my medication is on its way and when it finally never arrives my skin has sores, cysts and I can’t move my lips?” she wrote in an Instagram story.

“This might not be a big deal to many, but the few that have suffered are desperate for a solution.”

However, it actually turned out to be a very big deal for several women, who flooded Sultana’s Instagram post with their own similar stories after different types of contraceptives pills suddenly go out of stock. 

All the women's responses to Amy's Instagram post

All the women’s responses to Amy’s Instagram post

“I know I am not the only one in this situation; I know two other people personally and god knows how many others have been in the same situation and are forced to change again and again,” one of them said. “I know that for me and many others changing the pill means having to get used to new hormone levels which has many negative side effects both mental and physical.”

“I’ve changed pill four times because of this and Qlaira is the only pill I’ve found that suits me because I suffer with severe acne and chronic periods,” one woman said.

“My pill has been out of stock for over five months and I had sent an email to the health authorities. I’ve had to go on a new pill now. It’s the third brand I’ve had to try because this keeps on happening,” another said.

“I’ve changed pills enough times to appreciate what a struggle this is, and it’s simply ridiculous that such an important drug with such strict rules to adhere to can be out of stock across the country.”

Another woman also on the out-of-stock medicine Qlaira said it is not an option for her to try another brand.

“Currently the contraceptive pill I’m on (Qlaira) has been out of stock for around three to four months and many other brands are also out of stock. No pharmacy is sure when it is going to be back in stock, which I find ridiculous.”

“I have already had to change pill because the previous pill I was on was out of stock for four months and I ran out. Now that I’ve changed brand, I realise it’s happening with many brands and I can’t just keep switching as it has a negative effect on my body. I am on the pill not only for contraceptive reasons but for medical ones too so I can’t just stop taking it until it is back in stock.”

Beyond medical reasons for taking the hormonal pill, one woman pointed out that the issue of blanket anti-abortion laws makes the availability of the pill even more crucial.

“Considering that in Malta abortion is illegal it is only right that all women have easy access to contraception and the pill is a very common form of that!”

“This really angers me because I’ve seen many comments calling women reckless for getting pregnant and opting for an abortion whilst in reality the country doesn’t even supply the proper birth control.” 

Lovin Malta spoke to Prof. Anthony Serracino Inglott, from the Medicines Authority, regarding the short supply of certain brands. He said that several factors have affected the availability of the pill.

“It’s a very concerning situation,” he said. “Malta imports many of these pills from the UK and Brexit has impacted the process, while the COVID-19 crisis has also made it worse. There is also a lack of competitors producing the active ingredients of the contraceptive.”

The global epidemic has disrupted supply chains of leading manufacturer giants like China and India, who produce Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), a core component of all drugs, including contraceptives. The COVID-19 crisis forced factories in the two countries to shut their doors, leading to fear of a global shortages of essential medicines since the outbreak.

When the outbreak hit Malta, the government ordered a stock up of what it considered essential medicines to prevent such shortages. However, the contraceptive pill is not listed as an essential medicine.

Meanwhile, women have been kept in dark without an idea as to when they will be able to access these pills from local pharmacies again.

What do you make of the situation?