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Ethiopian immigrants in Israel received contraceptive shots without their consent

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1614 (Published 11 March 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1614
  1. Tamara Traubmann
  1. 1Tel Aviv

The Health Ministry of Israel is to investigate claims that Ethiopian immigrants are receiving injections of the contraceptive Depo-Provera (medroxyprogesterone) without their consent or knowledge.

According to the testimony by dozens of women interviewed for a report published by Isha LeIsha, a feminist centre in Haifa,1 and a documentary film produced by the Educational Television Network, the injection was given to all Ethiopian immigrants, often without explanation as to its content or with unclear translation.

According to the health plan organisations, thousands of women were injected. Sometimes the treatment began while the women were still in transit camps in Ethiopia. Some women have even testified that they were told that without the injection, they would not be allowed to immigrate to Israel. They were also told that raising a child was difficult in Israel, and that the injection was for their own benefit. After the sweeping use of Depo-Provera, the birth rate in the Ethiopian community halved.

Depo-Provera has known side effects, but many women say that they received no explanation about this, nor were they presented with any alternatives such as birth control pills. One woman said that she received the injections for years, although she has osteoporosis and use of Depo-Provera might increase bone loss.

“There is no medical follow-up,” said one of the women interviewed in the report, “I saw a gynaecologist only when I had to start getting the shots, and even then I got no explanation.”

Previously, the Ministry of Health denied the sweeping use of the injection among Ethiopian immigrants. But in a letter from the director general of the Health Ministry, Roni Gamzu, to the health plan organisations on 27 January, doctors were instructed “not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin . . . if for any reason there is concern that they have not understood the ramifications of the treatment.”

The investigative team will be headed by the deputy minister of health, Yakov Litzman, who had also denied the affair in the past.

The Ministry of Health management has reported that “Depo-Provera is a legitimate means of contraception,” and that the Ministry “does not guide or encourage use of injections of Depo-Provera and if they have been used this is contrary to our position.”

The spokesperson of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Israel, who operates the clinic of the transit camp in Ethiopia, said: “The family planning programme is one of the services available at the JDC clinic for those clients who request this kind of assistance. JDC has no interest in pushing the women to use one type of contraceptive rather than another one . . . JDC was never involved in the Aliyah [immigration to Israel] business—this is the government of Israel’s role.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1614

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