Women pay price on mesh

FIVE years ago Gai Thompson warned Australia’s peak health bodies of a looming disaster involving women receiving mesh device implants to treat common problems after pregnancy, birth and hysterectomies.

This week Mrs Thompson and others are speaking for the first time as they plan a rally in Canberra and call for an inquiry into the health regulators and medical bodies they say have failed them.

They are the women who, in many cases, can no longer have sex, have lost their jobs, have had to mortgage or sell their homes, have travelled overseas for surgery to remove the mesh, have suffered excruciating chronic pain, are resistant to some antibiotics because of chronic infections, and have suffered in isolation and silence – often for years.

“We’ve lost so much that I can’t believe in this day and age this can happen to women, that our lives are being destroyed and no one cares,” Mrs Thompson said.

In America tens of thousands of mesh victims have taken manufacturers and doctors to court and been awarded individual damages of up to $12.5 million. In Australia the response from women has been slower because of fewer numbers and isolation, but it is growing, says Australian Pelvic Mesh Support Group founder Caz Chisholm.

A planned rally by her group in Canberra on May 25 will target health regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which approved the first of more than 40 mesh devices for transvaginal (through the vagina) surgery to treat prolapse in 2005. Prolapse is where pelvic muscles and ligaments are weakened after pregnancy, birth or hysterectomy.

The TGA approved the devices despite no evidence of their safe use in prolapse cases and clear warnings in 2003 of the need for controlled trials on related mesh devices.

In 2014 the TGA conceded its assessment process for mesh devices had not been “mature” and lacked “rigour”. The concession coincided with belated TGA action requiring clinical evidence from manufacturers of the safety and efficacy of transvaginal mesh devices.

Mrs Thompson’s life after mesh surgery in February, 2008 is in a report to the TGA , which notes she can no longer have sex and her life has become “a living nightmare”.

The TGA said it strengthened its oversight of mesh applications and took action against manufacturers, cancelled devices and required clinical evidence.

I can't believe in this day and age this can happen to women

Gai Thompson