Sabrina Hill on hyperemesis gravidarum: I thought 'I'm actually dying'

The Cork businesswoman is using her Instagram platform to raise awareness of the distressing condition and the financial burden of having to pay for the drug that can abate its symptoms
Sabrina Hill on hyperemesis gravidarum: I thought 'I'm actually dying'

Sabrina Hill has been suffering with Hyperemisis Gravidarum throughout her pregnancy. Picture: @sabrinahill_

Sabrina Hill, a hair salon owner from Cork is raising awareness of a debilitating condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, and the financial burden of having to pay for the drug that can abate its symptoms.

I am speaking to her during a small window where she is well enough to speak — and she is eager to speak.

Sabrina, who is 27 weeks pregnant, has been suffering from severe vomiting and nausea since week seven of her pregnancy. 

“The first time that I got it... I remember lying in the bed in the foetal position and I thought, 'I'm actually dying."

"A lot of people think it's like morning sickness," she explains, but it is "way more than that".

"I have often vomited to the point of bringing up blood. I wet myself nearly every second day now the force is so bad."

"The only way I could describe it is, it's as if I went on a bender for four days drinking gin straight with no mixer and no food," she says. 

"You get to the point where you are so dehydrated, you just can't move. You can't do anything. You can't keep anything down. 

"You can't keep water down, can't keep food down."

Hyperemesis Ireland says around one in 100-150 pregnant women will be admitted to hospital due to the dehydration and malnutrition that hyperemesis can cause. 

"You end up in hospital because really the only way out of it at that stage is to be hooked up to an IV line to get fluids, anti-nausea and anti-vomiting medication [through the drip]," Sabrina says.

According to the HSE,  around 1% of women will suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, but Sabrina suspects there are many more.

"You only have to look at the comments underneath my post to really realise the true extent and the true numbers of women that go through this and have gone through this for so many years."

Prohibitively expensive drug 

As well as bringing awareness to the condition itself, the Cork woman wants to bring public attention to the cost of the drug Cariban, which helps to alleviate the symptoms of hyperemesis. 

Presently, women suffering from the condition must pay for the drug out of their pocket, which Sabrina says is prohibitive. 

“The medication can run up to €280 for a monthly prescription," she says, adding that her monthly bill for the medication is around €200.

Finance is one of the big barriers for many women who wish to access Cariban, says Sabrina. 

"I am lucky, I have money to buy this medication and I've seen my obstetrician since week eight. But most women who are in the public system do not get to see their consultant obstetrician until their second trimester, which means they can be up to five months without ever seeing a consultant."

Sabrina says she has been inundated with messages from women who are in financial hardship and can not afford the medication.

"There was one woman who [messaged me], who went into her pharmacy, it was her first time going in with the prescription and the pharmacist told her how much it was going to be and she actually cried. 

"She stood there and cried because she said I couldn't buy it.  She said, 'I had to choose between my weekly shopping or my medication. I have to feed my children"

“This drug is available in Spain for between €12 and €19 per box over the counter and in the UK and Northern Ireland, it's covered by the NHS.

"Maternity healthcare in this country is supposed to be free," she says.

"Another woman messaged me yesterday. She vomited in her toilet just after she took her medication. 

She put her hands down the toilet bowl to fish out the tablet because she could only afford a week of medication.

"That's shocking. We're not a third-world country."

 Laura Dowling, pharmacist. Photograph Moya Nolan
Laura Dowling, pharmacist. Photograph Moya Nolan

In an Instagram reel posted on Thursday pharmacist Laura Dowling used her platform Fabulous Pharmacist to explain why the availability of Cariban is a pertinent issue for women in Ireland and how it is a huge financial burden on those who need it to treat hyperemesis. 

"This is a drug that is an antihistamine combined with a B vitamin. It should be really cheap to make and to buy but it's not because it's unlicensed here [in Ireland], " says Dowling.

One of the main reasons the drug is not licenced in Ireland is that it is not commercially viable given the relatively small cohort of women who need it, says Dowling.  

The second barrier to women experiencing difficulty accessing Cariban is that it doesn't have a drug code, making it difficult to be reimbursed under the drug payment scheme, and for women to even access the drug immediately after their consultant has prescribed it, Dowling explains.

These are the obstacles which women, who Dowling says "are simply pregnant, giving birth to the next generation of Irish people, and they are being forced to pay for their troubles and they are also being made to suffer unnecessarily".

"This drug can stop their nausea and help them to live their lives, and even when it is 'accessible' to them, it's not accessible to them."

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