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The Imperatives of Improving Women’s Health

It is another month of March, and globally it is recognized as the women’s month and the theme of this year’s celebration –“Gender Equality” — is quite insightful and instructive. This means that the international community has come to observe and realize that there is a difference between the sexes. We know that an active person in need of equality should be healthy. This is what has inspired this article. What is health?

Health as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) is a state of physical, mental, social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Women, by our very nature, are exposed to certain peculiar health issues which include but is not limited to our reproductive and sexual health; issues pertaining to pregnancy, child bearing, maternal mortality, complications in pregnancy, pre- eclampsia, eclampsia, stillbirth, mother-to-child transmission of diseases, infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, abortions, cancers of the reproductive organs, un-consensual sexual activity, and many more.

There are also issues with other causes of death in men and women which tend to affect women more. Today, lung cancer is a leading cause of death amongst other cancers in women. Whereas smoking is a known predisposing cause of lung cancer, the incidence is three times higher in non-smoking women than smoking men. Estrogen, the predominant female hormone, may fuel cancer cell growth or interact with genes that boost the effect of carcinogens. This may be one of the reasons why the incidence is high and the prognosis in women is poor.

Other leading causes of cancer deaths are breast cancer, cancer of the colon and rectum, ovarian cancer, cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb) and cancer of the uterus. Other health matters include raised blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders, osteoporosis, anemia, diabetes, depression, dementia, urinary tract infection, and of course there is also poverty, lack of good education, and absence of a skill she can rely on to provide for her family. Unfortunately, not much is being done in terms of research into peculiar women’s health issues as their representation in the research area is limited.

The moves by the World Organization of Ovulation Method Billings (WOOMB) to bring the good news to Africa are welcome. At its recent International Conference in Cotonou, Benin Republic, the need to educate women about their reproductive health was reiterated. Here, women in all stages of life from menarche when they start their menstruation to menopause when it stops are taught how to manage their reproductive health by observing their body signs and interpreting the findings she has recorded in a chart. It is completely natural and has no side effects. By so doing, she learns to know her fertile and infertile time and to utilize it as the family would need. She is not restricted by breastfeeding or any preexisting medical condition. She does not need to do anything new but just to pay attention.

What can we as women do to stay healthy? The basic minimum we need to do are things that we probably already know, but are not paying attention to. They include but are not limited to the following:

•       To have regular health checks, at least twice in a year. This should include physical examination, a check of the blood pressure, lipid profile, fasting blood sugar, and the blood chemistry. Women over 40 years will need to check their eyes for glaucoma, bone mineral density, thyroid function tests, Pap smear every three years and more. Persons who are at a high risk of STDs will need to do tests for Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. Your physician will help guide you to do the needful.

It is important that we each have record of our medical history especially if you are seeing a new physician. This summary will bring the doctor up to speed on our health, knowing our current and previous diagnosis, any allergies, and what medications we are currently taking.

•       We have to keep the body moving by doing regular, moderately intense exercise for about 2 – 3 hours weekly; our ancestors were not sedentary, they were hunters and gatherers. These exercises should make us sweat and get our hearts beating fast.

•       Our diet should be tailored to suit our state of health. Basically, we need to avoid processed foods, as they contain preservatives. We need to drink adequate amount of water as it cleanses the body and removes toxins. We should eat foods in the right proportions, rich in fibers, low in carbohydrates and fat.

•       To avoid excessive use of alcohol and recreational drugs, for obvious reasons.

•       Ensure we have adequate sleep especially at nights. I will not put duration to this. Sleep is adequate if we wake up refreshed, on our own without the alarm clock. Our bodies get refreshed in sleep as lots of healing takes place then. And the things we had learnt are filed away in our memory banks during sleep. So sleep is therapeutic.

•       Our day to day life is already stressful as we are responsible for nurturing our families in most cultures, we should therefore learn to minimize stress. When we feel overwhelmed by the events going on in our lives, we should pause, take a break and count five things that are going on well with us at the time and we will definitely find things to be grateful for. We need to learn to take one day at a time and to be grateful very small change.

Sometimes, we take up more activities than we can cope with. It is important to learn to politely, say “NO” sometimes. We may choose to say not at this time which means that we may be open to assisting at some other time.

Finally, I like to advocate that we learn to look out for each other as every little help counts. Happy International Women’s Month to us all.

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