A tiny rod implanted into the upper arm is expected soon to offer New Zealand women what could be their first foolproof contraceptive.

The Ministry of Health has approved in principle the sale of Implanon, a matchstick-sized implant that releases the hormone progestogen.

The revolutionary contraceptive method has been used in Australia for the past year, and even longer in other countries where women are rushing to take advantage of the trouble-free alternative to the pill.


The ministry's senior medical adviser, Dr Stewart Jessamine, said Implanon had been recommended for registration subject to minor changes in its labelling.

Those details were under negotiation with Auckland pharmaceutical company Organon.

Company general manger John Cameron said the product was not yet registered so he could not discuss any details.

"We are almost there but it's not officially gazetted ... We still have to provide some information to the ministry."

Mr Cameron said Organon also needed to consider reimbursement issues, such as what subsidies might be offered through Pharmac, before it could know when the contraceptive might be introduced.

Family Planning Association spokeswoman Dr Christine Roke said she hoped the Government would subsidise Implanon.

"We would be very keen to see it as another choice," she said. "We've been waiting for it to come."

Australian figures would put the cost at about $300, and Dr Roke thought it would be good value for money for women who could afford to pay up front. The plastic rod is inserted in the upper arm in a simple procedure, taking just a few minutes and with a local anaesthetic.

It would not be visible but would be able to be felt just under the skin.

The device releases small amounts of progestogen daily, and lasts for three years.

Dr Roke said Implanon would suit women who might forget to take the pill or did not want the hassle.

It was also ideal for women who could not take oestrogen because of blood clots, severe migraines, high blood pressure or severe diabetes.

She said Implanon would pretty much suit all women, although she would hesitate recommending it to anyone with breast cancer.

The most likely side-effects would be irregular bleeding in about half the women who took it, which might be considered a nuisance.

About one-third of women with the implant had experienced light bleeding or spotting, and one-sixth reported infrequent periods.

One-quarter of women continued with normal menstruation, and one-sixth found their periods stopped altogether.

Uncommon side-effects had included weight gain, acne, dizziness, headaches and breast pain.

Dr Roke said it was a "well-nigh" foolproof contraceptive with no reported pregnancies yet.

It had proven popular in Australia, where more than 26,000 Implanon devices had already been sold.

But she did not think Implanon would become as popular as the pill, which had cornered the contraceptive market.