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Fri, Dec 29, 2000 - Page 2 News List

RU-486 approved for controlled sales

STAFF WRITER , WITH AP AND AFP

Taiwan's Department of Health yesterday approved the use of the controversial abortion pill RU-486. Department officials, however, stressed that the drug can only be used by women who are less than seven-weeks pregnant and must be taken under the supervision of a doctor.

PHOTO: LIN CHENG-KUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan's Department of Health (DOH, 衛生署) yesterday approved the use of the controversial abortion pill RU-486, conceding that a ban on the drug had not stopped women from taking it to end unwanted pregnancies.

DOH director-general Lee Ming-liang (李明亮) yesterday said that the pill was approved to prevent women from taking the drug on their own, risking excessive bleeding and other dangers.

According to Lee, thousands of Taiwanese women, most of them teenagers, have illegally obtained the pill from drug stores or the Internet. "Legalizing the drug offered women an alternative form of abortion," Lee said, "and urged doctors to abide by the regulations."

According to DOH regulations, the French-imported RU-486 pill, called Mifepristone (美服錠), is available only with a doctor's prescription now that the drug has undergone four months of clinical trials at three local hospitals. "The drug can only be used by women who are less than seven weeks pregnant and must be taken in the presence of a doctor," Lee added.

Meanwhile, patients would be required to have a medical checkup 36 to 48 hours after taking the pill, during which they would have to take a second drug which causes the uterus to expel the embryo.

"Medical supervision is necessary to ensure safe use of the drug," Lee said. Two Taiwan women died and about 1,000 were treated for side-effects from using the drug last year.

In Asia, only Taiwan and China have approved use of RU-486.

According to the DOH, companies involved in the import and distribution of RU-486 must register with authorities. The pill, which was first introduced in France 12 years ago, has been available on Taiwan's black market for several years, and recently on the Internet where the three initial pills cost between NT$4,800 to NT$6,000, local media said.

The pill only costs about NT$500 in a public hospital.

The government has yet to say what steps it will take to prevent illegal sales of the drug. Meanwhile, Lai Shu-mei (賴淑美), head of the Bureau of National Health Insurance (中央健保局), said yesterday the government will pay NT$1,500 for each patient who takes the pill on a doctor's prescription.

More than 42,000 abortions were performed under the national health program last year. However, Secretary-general of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Association Su Tsung-hsien (蘇聰賢) last week said that the actual number could be as high as 100,000 if abortions obtained from private clinics are also counted.

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