Transvaginal mesh devices under the spotlight

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“WeE were guinea pigs, we just didn’t know until it was too late,” said Caz Chisholm, who can barely contain her rage against doctors, regulators, the manufacturers of transvaginal mesh devices and a health system that has catastrophically failed women.

She set up the Australian Pelvic Mesh Support Group in November, 2014, after flying to America to have mesh removed from her body after severe complications.

She flew to Canberra from Western Australia two years later to meet Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch and argue for a Senate inquiry into transvaginal mesh, and rallied women in February when an inquiry was announced.

Ms Chisholm accuses doctors of “closing ranks” when women complained of catastrophic injuries after mesh surgery, including disabling pain, an inability to urinate, sit or have sex, the erosion of mesh tape into women’s vaginas and rectums, chronic infections and bleeding.

She accuses manufacturers of putting profits before women’s lives.

She accuses Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of not only failing women by approving transvaginal mesh devices without clinical evidence of safety and efficacy, but having an adverse events reporting system that completely failed to detect injuries to women, and of failing to respond quickly and appropriately when the extent of serious complications became apparent.

“I set up the support group because it was basically the only place for women to go,” Ms Chisholm said.

“Current systems still don’t allow the true extent of this disaster to be known. For so many women you’re left feeling you’re the only one experiencing these extreme consequences. It’s only when women join the group they are able to say ‘Oh my God, it’s not just me. I’m not going crazy’.”

Ms Chisholm said many women were not told the risks of transvaginal mesh surgery before it was implanted, and so did not give informed consent.

“If you’ve not consented to what is going to happen to you, and you wake with serious complications, you’re not only dealing with the physical impacts of mesh but the emotional trauma of feeling violated,” Ms Chisholm said.

“It is a violation of your body to have something in there that you didn’t consent to.”

Ms Chisholm said the Senate inquiry, which is receiving submissions until May and will hold public hearings around the country mid-year, was a chance to “hold regulators to account for being responsible for destroying women’s lives”, and question doctors and the medical profession about why they used mesh in women without requiring evidence it was safe and worked.

“It’s just seeing justice done. That’s why it’s important,” Ms Chisholm said.

The Herald