Cyprus has limited choices when it comes to contraception, which restricts women’s sexual and reproductive rights while also hindering progress in policymaking and information, the family planning association said on Thursday.

Dr. Aphrodite Elisseou Xenophontos, head of the obstetrics and gynecology society, told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) that the culture of contraception is not widespread in Cyprus, with only a few options available – the main one being the contraceptive pill.

She said that several newer contraceptive methods, such as implants, which are circulating in other European countries including Greece, are not imported into Cyprus because they are considered commercially unprofitable, given the small market.

A similar argument was made by the family planning association during a House human rights session in July 2022, where it was noted that options are limited to contraceptive pills, the male condom, the IUD (coil) which in state hospitals is fitted only for “medical reasons” and not as a contraceptive method, and sterilization.

The committee had also heard that “modern contraception plays a key role in ensuring women’s right to family planning and their choices, actively and responsibly planning the number of children they want, the time they want to have children and the time gap between their children.”

It had also been argued that the lack of data gathering on specific aspects of reproductive health, like abortion, can be detrimental as it can make it harder for policymakers to make informed decisions on the matter.

But gaps regarding contraception are not solely because of the limited options offered in Cyprus, but also due to a lack of access and lack of information, executive director of the family planning association Maria Epaminonda told CNA.

Epaminonda noted that the collection of data on issues related to the use and effectiveness of contraceptive methods is necessary for the design of policies and action plans concerning public health and specifically sexual reproductive health.

She also underlined the importance of using contraception, saying that “prevention is everything,” adding that a lack of information, awareness and access to options can often lead to unwanted pregnancies.

She explained that the need to inform and use contraceptive methods does not only concern teenagers and young people, but also older people, as family planning is something that concerns all women, including married ones.

Epaminonda also pointed out insufficient data collection, saying that abortion statistics concerning unwanted pregnancies do not exist in Cyprus, yet the association’s 1455 helpline is often called upon to manage cases of unwanted pregnancy, both by adult and minor women.

“We are not in favour of abortion, we do not want any woman and any girl to be faced with this dilemma, we are in favour of every woman’s right to decide and choose for herself on issues related to her sexual reproductive health,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Xenophontos said that several years ago, the obstetrics and gynecology society had submitted a request to the health ministry to introduce the progesterone pill, which is indicated as a method of contraception especially for women who are breastfeeding, but the matter did not proceed and was not raised again since then.

She pointed out, however, that in general the culture of contraception is not widespread in Cyprus and that there is resistance from many girls, especially young ones, even to the contraceptive pill, due to fear of side effects.

Head of the pharmaceutical association Eleni Piera Isseyiek confirmed that some contraceptive methods have not been introduced to the Cypriot market.

In fact, she said, this has in part created the wrong impression that the morning-after pill can be routinely used as a method of contraception, which is not the case, as it is considered an emergency solution which is why it is offered without a prescription.

In Cyprus, contraceptives are available either through pharmacies or through doctors, but are not covered by health scheme Gesy as contraception is not included in medically necessary services, Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) senior officer Monica Kyriacou said.

She added that this is a matter of public health and falls under the competence of other agencies and organisations, either the ministry of health or the deputy ministry of welfare.