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How ignorance worsens women's health challenges

Written by Biodun Ogungbo - Nigeria
Additional report by Priscilla Ikparen, MHM, B.Sc, RN, RM

 Biodun Ogungbo
Women get a rough deal in Nigeria. But, health problems of many women stem from ignorance, bad advice and poverty. You can help by learning something today and then stand up to help the women close to you. This is an article about women: for both men and women. It is an article that will save lives.

My name is cervical cancer
The stench permeated the whole hospital.
It made you gag and retch.
Everyone asked aloud, whether a body was decomposing in the mortuary.
The mortuary attendant was called to answer the questions.
Alas, it was not from the mortuary.
Where is the smell coming from?

The answer became obvious as soon as Sola (not her real name for it could also be Hauwa or Ngozi for that matter) entered the consulting room. Her face told the story. It was redesigned with shame and a lot of pain!
She was also accompanied not by a relative, but by flies, attracted to the stench emanating from her clothes. She looked thin, gaunt and her face expressed pain clear enough for the blind to see.

It all started as irregular vaginal bleeding during and after intercourse. She went to see a chemist who gave her painkillers and antibiotics. It did not help.
Apart from the pain, she began to lose weight and could not eat much. It was when the bleeding became frequent and started smelling that she knew this was not a problem for the chemist. You see, the smell was coming from her private parts.
After the consultation, the doctor told her she had cervical cancer. Sadly, it was no longer treatable and definitely not curable. She is destined to die from this dreadful disease.
Sorry, where is her husband? Perhaps, close to someone else's cervix!

The cervix
The cervix is the entrance into the womb (uterus) of women. Cancer of the cervix is a malignant cancer arising from the cervix. The greatest risk for cervical cancer is infection with some types of virus known as the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV for short). Remember the name, HPV. Let us call cervical cancer 'CC' for short.

HPV type 16 and 18 are the cause of 75 per cent of cancer globally. For example, women who have many sexual partners (or who have sex with men who have had sex with many other partners) or women who became sexually active at an early stage in life, have the greater risk. But, any woman can be affected! Any age can be affected!
If you think it can never happen to you, think again!

Myths and misconceptions
Cervical cancer can be prevented or treated adequately if discovered very early. But there are misconceptions linked to CC in Africa. Some think it is caused by witches or the handwork of their enemies. You know it is not and so you need to pass on this message and discuss widely with the women you love.

How can you protect your wife, your friend or even the girl child from CC? Discourage negative thoughts and encourage screening, early presentation to hospital and effective treatment by trained people (not herbalists and religious killers; sorry, healers!). Also, do not go to your local chemists for treatment of serious issues.

I am your woman
The women close to you right now need your help. She needs you either as family, health service provider, faith-based organisation, media personnel, among others, to give her all the information about CC by raising public awareness campaigns in the hospitals, churches, market places, schools and universities.

Are you a family member (mother, father, sister and brother in-law)? Your role is to ensure that you encourage and take your daughter, sister and in-laws to visit the health facility for regular cancer screening and vaccination. Also, share this article widely and we will go a long way in preventing our women from cervical cancer.

Did I say vaccination?
Yes! A vaccine exists to prevent CC. Research has it that HPV vaccines reduce the risk of cancerous changes in the cervix by about 93 per cent. HPV vaccines are typically given to women age nine to 26 years as the vaccine is only effective before infection occurs. However, women above that age too can be given after subsequent screening and it is clear that they are not already infected.

Listen, we asked women, including doctors at the recent meeting of the Guild of Medical Directors in Abuja, if any of them had been vaccinated against cervical cancer. None had been! So, there is a good chance your woman may not know about the vaccine.
Remember that we cannot and do not treat cancer well in Nigeria due to lack of health facilities to do so. It is cheaper and safer to prevent cancer. She needs you to educate her on the importance of vaccination. To prevent a disease that eats from the inside.
So, please stand up and be counted.
Ask for the vaccine and save a life today!

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