State refunds Viagra costs but women must pay for severe pregnancy sickness drugs, Seanad told

Cost of treatment for hyperemesis gravidarum can be €3,000 over course of pregnancy

There are three drugs to treat extreme morning sickness, but only one is licensed in Ireland. File photograph: Katie Collins/PA

There are three drugs to treat extreme morning sickness, but only one is licensed in Ireland. File photograph: Katie Collins/PA

 

It is “utterly unacceptable” that the State refunds the cost of erectile dysfunction drug Viagra to men but does not reimburse the one in 10 women who suffer severe pregnancy sickness, the Seanad has been told.

Fine Gael Senator Garret Ahearn said women who suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum face severe nausea and vomiting to such extreme levels that they cannot work or have a normal pregnancy. The condition affects about 1 per cent of pregnant women. *

It is a condition that became quite commonly known following the pregnancies of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and its most famous victim, he said.

The Tipperary Senator said there are three drugs to treat the condition but two of them are not available in Ireland and the third, Cariban, is not licensed. It costs €2.40 a tablet and is recommended to take four a day, which Mr Ahearn said would cost €3,000 over the term of a pregnancy and “is not funded by the State at all”. In Spain it costs half that price, he added.

“Women with hyperemesis, through no fault of their own, are stuck between a rock and a hard place in having to pay for this,” he said.

Viagra is a treatment for erectile dysfunction and is manufactured in Cork. Known colloquially as the “Pfizer riser” it is funded through the medical card and the drugs payment scheme but hyperemesis treatment is not permitted through either.

“It seems incredibly ironic that Viagra can be reimbursed if one has a medical card but that women who suffer from hyperemesis receive no reimbursement whatsoever,” Mr Ahearn said.

“How far do we have to go or how long do we have to wait before there is equality in this country?” he asked.

He called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to have the Health Service Executive (HSE) meet representatives of Hyperemesis Ireland who have been campaigning on the issue. Mr Ahearn said they had written to the HSE over three weeks ago seeking a meeting but had not received a reply and he added that when in opposition Mr Donnelly believed that “first-line medications for hyperemesis should be reimbursed on the medical card and the drugs payment scheme”.

The Fine Gael Senator quoted one woman who suffered with hyperemesis in her previous pregnancies: “I want another baby so much. I am working extra hours so that I can afford it as I know that I will be off work with hyperemesis.

“I will have to pay for medication and extra childcare as I physically won’t be able to mind my other two children... I was vomiting up to 20 times a day and lost 20kg... If you are on a low income, it is impossible to afford the medication and you cannot continue to work.”

Mr Ahearn said “this is utterly unacceptable in the age we are living in”.

Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly commended him for raising the subject “because there is a lottery when it comes to medication”.

*This article was amended on May 1st, 2021.