Access to contraceptives on Cortes Island: nurse discusses options

An orange wooden box is affixed outside a public building.
Orange boxes contain the free condoms and lube, and are open 24/7 in front of the Squirrel Cove General Store, Mansons Hall, Gorge Hall, and the Cortes Health Clinic. Photo by Loni Taylor.
Loni Taylor - CKTZ - Cortes IslandBC | 09-09-2022
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Cortes Island is a rural community with limited access to medical care and supplies, including contraceptives. The Cortes Ambulance Station 169, the Klahoose Health Centre and Cortes Health Centre work in cooperation to stock orange boxes affixed outside of public buildings on Cortes that offer free supplies and are accessible 24/7. Inside the box there are female and male condoms, lube and naloxone kits.

For those with female anatomy, the options for contraceptive access are vast, according to the primary care nurse for the Cortes Health Clinic, Registered Nurse Erin Zip.

“Definitely a lot more options for women. We have the insertional condoms… oral contraceptives; the more common brands of Yaz and Alesse are available in the clinic,” Zip said, "We also have IUDs available and our doctors here can insert the IUDs … We also have Plan B pills that are available over the counter. You don't even need a doctor's prescription for that,” she said.

For those with male anatomy, contraceptive options are more limited. The general stores have one or no options for latex male condoms. Since this story began production, Cortes access has expanded to include a latex-free option. Those with latex allergies may purchase the condoms at the pharmacy, which is located in the clinic. The hours of operation for the pharmacy are 1-4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Zip elaborates on further options for men for family planning and contraceptives.

“The doctors can also provide referrals for vasectomies... it is a more invasive procedure. They would need to go to Comox or Victoria, for ... the only options.”

Men might wonder why more options have not become available in Canada since oral birth control became accessible in the 1960's, for women.

Methods to choose could be expanding in the future for men on Cortes Island and worldwide. One option is a  technology called Vasalgel-which is not yet to market, but will begin human trials in late 2023.

Vasalgel is a non-hormonal hydrogel technology that derived from the concept of RIGUS, which has been in development since 1979. In 2010, Parsemus Foundation, a non-profit in the United States, took on the funding and development of Vasalgel with the goal of preparing it for clinical trials. The foundation has passed the technology off to Next Life Sciences, with the hope that the company has the resources and innovative abilities to bring Vasalgel to the masses.

CKTZ spoke with CEO of Next Life Sciences, LR Fox, to understand what the journey will look like to bring Vasalgel to rural areas in Canada, like Cortes Island. Fox relates the procedural requirements to that of a basic doctor’s office, likening the procedure to a flu shot.

“Any doctor's office that's able to insert an IUD, should be able to administer Vasalgel .”

According to Fox, the profile of Vasalgel has no known side effects, is long-term, low-risk, and produces effective results. The procedure is also 100% reversible.

50,000 individuals across 100 countries have contacted Next Life Sciences about their interest in the product. Vasalgel is not currently available in Canada, but when it is, it appears it could be an accessible technology for Cortes Island.

To find out more about Vasalgel and contraceptive access on Cortes, listen to the CKTZ News Update below: