The Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission (IPC) issued a drug safety alert regarding Meftal, a commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), last week. The alert states that the drug's constituent, mefenamic acid, can trigger a drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS) syndrome, a severe allergic reaction.
This news changes the status of the drug, which is a popular painkiller for various uses but also for menstrual pain among Indian women. According to medical professionals, the harm is rare; however, the problem lies in the unregulated use of the drug, often without a prescription. According to a survey in 2016 based in India, about 50% of the participants admitted to purchasing various drugs from pharmacies without prescriptions.
But where does this leave pain management, which most women in the country follow for their discomfort? Even if people say that such a case is rare, the news will cause mass hysteria and will certainly result in boycotts as a result of fear. But the problem is not Meftal, as all drugs, all surgeries, and all treatments have a certain degree of risk, if not probable negative side effects.
In an article titled ‘The female problem: how male bias in medical trials ruined women's health’ Dr. Kate Young is quoted saying, “For much of documented history, women have been excluded from medical and science knowledge production, so essentially we’ve ended up with a healthcare system, among other things in society, that has been made by men for men.” The “disease” of hysteria is historically attached to women; in fact, it is born of the Greek word "hystera,” which means the uterus, making it a woman’s malady. In this context, says Young, such were the difficult women, for whom the conventional methods of treatment showed no respite. In fact, they were told to adjust their lifestyles and focus on their gender roles to ease the manifestations of their disease. The fact that symptoms of cardiac arrest for women differ greatly is not known, and the “common” symptoms are ones that a man might experience, speaks volumes about this experience.
Throughout the history of medicine, the trials have predominantly been on men, which is the cause of this deeply regretted bias. All measurements, dosages, and symptoms are almost always more relevant to a male body than a female. In the case of drugs, those tested on men only can be dangerous for women, and those that are beneficial to the female body might get rejected because the test group might have a negligible number of women and may show no use to men.
The fact still remains that although pain and discomfort as a result of menstrual contractions are almost a universal experience for all biological females, pain management is a common painkiller whose side effects are now dangerous. Meftal might now be harmful to all bodies, but its consumption for a pain felt by a woman can no longer be without risks. Resorting to other drugs is simple and hassle-free, but the thought remains, why have we not come up with a drug yet that counters such a common pain that half of the population experiences, whose consumption does not come at a risk of detriment?
Featured image- Village Scene, 1938 by Amrita Sher-Gil
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