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Hundreds of women sue over breast implants

Published:Monday | January 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Women affected by breast implants of the French brand Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), listen to lawyer Gilberto Andrea, unseen, outside the civil court in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, January 6. According to lawyer Emilia De Leon, around 400 women affected by breast implants made by PIP filed a request for an injunction against the implants' distributors in Venezuela. - AP

About 400 Venezuelan women sued companies that sold faulty French-made breast implants last Friday demanding the companies cover their medical expenses.

The group is seeking a court order to cover expenses including surgeries to replace the defective implants and other treatment, said Emilia De Leon, one of the lawyers.

Venezuelan Health Minister Eugenia Sader announced last month that women could have the implants removed free of charge at public hospitals, but the government would not pay to replace them.

De Leon said Friday that the government's offer isn't sufficient and the women who are suing want the Venezuelan Medical Federation to agree to waive doctor's fees for replacing the implants.

Non-medical silicone

The breast implants were manufactured with non-medical grade silicone by the now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese, or PIP. In some cases, women have had them removed after they ruptured.

The court order, if approved, would apply to five Venezuelan companies that sold the implants, said Gilberto Andrea, another of the lawyers.

France has said it will pay for some 30,000 French women to have their implants removed, after more than 1,000 ruptures of PIP implants. The implants have been pulled from the market in several countries in Europe and beyond due to fears they could rupture and leak harmful silicone into the body.

De Leon called the French government's stance absurd and said its responsibility isn't limited to French women.

"Those who have been harmed are all over the world," she said. "They were the ones responsible for granting permits and everything that comes with a product like this. They have to be responsible at an international level also."

Neri Parra, a 27-year-old woman who is among those suing, said she had an operation in mid-December to remove PIP implants. She said after having the implants for five years, she had suffered pains and her doctor recommended removing them.

Lisbeth Simarra, a 25-year-old beautician, said she joined the group because she can't afford the more than $4,000 cost of switching to another brand.

As for the companies that sold the implants, she said, "we want them to be responsible for what they did."

It's unclear how many women have PIP implants in Venezuela, where breast enlargement surgery is popular and doctors say PIP implants were widely used.

The Venezuelan Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery estimates 35,000 to 40,000 women in the country have breast enlargement surgery each year.