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Cape Town - A pain down her side – this is how a South African woman first found she is among scores of people across the world who received “inferior” quality breast implants.
The mother of two had the implants inserted six years ago only to find they were leaking.
They had been manufactured by the now bankrupt Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP), a French company that was at the centre of a controversy that made international headlines and gave rise to a class action in France.
She later had to have them removed and replaced at her own expense but was left with scarring, an unsightly lump and emotional trauma.
This is according to her lawyers, who have urged anyone else who had PIP implants to come forward before the cut off time at the end of the year.
Attorney Tzvi Brivik of law firm Malcolm Lyons & Brivik, which is involved in the litigation, said anyone who had had these implants would be entitled to recover about €3000 (about R43 000) in damages simply because the implants had been inserted.
This was in terms of a judgment in November by a court in Toulan, France, which had held that the body that tested and confirmed the safety of the product was liable to pay the compensation.
Brivik said that in some cases in which women had had problems (such as leaks and ruptures) with their implants, the claims might be even larger because of other damages, such as medical expenses and pain and suffering.
It is understood, however, that not many plastic surgeries carried out in South Africa involved PIP implants.
Dr Chris Snijman, of the Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons of Southern Africa, said in terms of the number of PIP products that had been supplied globally, South Africa was a minority. The main brands in South Africa were Allergan, Mentor and Eurosilicone. PIP products were no longer distributed in the country.
There were no clear statistics of how many South Africans had had PIP implants, said Snijman, but the association knew of 11 plastic surgeons that had used the product, totalling about 300 pairs of breast implants.
“I don’t know of anyone who complained formally but I have taken out three pairs that were leaking and had to be replaced,” he said.
Brivik said that so far not many South African women with PIP implants – which, he said, had been found to have been filled with “an inferior industrial grade silicone” – had come forward to be joined to the class action in France to recover their compensation.
The same exercise was being carried out in other countries, he said, because it was believed about 400 000 people globally had the implants.
In an e-mail response from Hartmut Müller-Gerbes, a spokesman for the German group, TÜV Rheinland, which carried out the safety tests, said it had performed its functions as a “notified body” responsibly and in full compliance with the applicable laws and regulations.
It said PIP’s “systematic fraud” could not have been uncovered with the means the law provided to them.
Brivik said people were able to establish whether they had had PIP implants by checking their implant ID card, which would either have been given to them when they were discharged or were available from their surgeon.