Women warned over contraceptive reliability warning

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The Independent Online
One in seventeen women using the contraceptive Persona for a year could get pregnant, the Government warned yesterday. Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent, says a warning letter has gone to all GPs and family planning clinics following an investigation

The chance of an unplanned pregnancy while using Persona, a small hand-held monitor which tells a woman when she is fertile, is five times higher than the Pill, the Government said yesterday.

Put another way, one in seventeen women each year who use Persona could become pregnant. This compares to one in 100 on the Pill and one in 50 couples who use condoms.

The deputy medical officer, Dr Jeremy Metters, advised women who were concerned to consult their GP or family planning clinic but stressed that the Government was not saying the device was not safe or should not be used by those for whom it is suitable.

"Family planning is all about choice, the woman's choice. the couple's choice," he said. "They must use the method which best suits their needs. But for women who must do everything to avoid getting pregnant this year, for these couples Persona is clearly not the method of choice."

Persona, hailed as the biggest family planning breakthrough since the 1960s, works by measuring a woman's hormone levels from urine tests and tells her when she can have sexual intercourse yet not conceive by "traffic light" signals.

Launched in October 1996 the product, backed by the Vatican, ran into controversy when it was reported that by April 1997 more than 400 women said they had become pregnant while using it. Marie Stopes International estimates that every month 60 Persona users seek abortions, and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said it had seen almost 200 women over a 13- week period seeking advice after using the device.

The letter sent yesterday to GPs and family planning clinics says that because of Persona's technological basis "expectations ... may be higher than for other forms of contraception" but that it is "basically a test- based form of the rhythm method".

Persona manufacturer Unipath said it welcomed the investigation which it claimed added further support for the device by its conclusion that it was a useful addition to the contraceptives already available.