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Marking World GYN Day: Experts shed light on challenges facing women's healthcare in Egypt

A panel on World GYN Day, 8 September, reached out to the younger generation, discussing vital health issues concerning women in the country

Ingy Deif, Thursday 10 Sep 2015
Photo by Ahramonline , World GYN Day At El Sawy Cultural Whee
Photo by Ahramonline , World GYN Day At El Sawy Cultural Wheel
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On 8 September, the world celebrates World GYN Day, which lifts the veil on gynecological issues and women's health.

The day is the brain child of Kath Matzella, a courageous survivor of vulval cancer who has since worked hard to ensure that women have the support they need to cope with their health issues.

A panel of medical doctors commemorated World GYN Day by meeting with the younger generation and discussing vital health issues concerning women in the country.

The panel chose El-Sawy CulturalWheel in Zamalek for an obvious reason: the place is renowned hub for events attended mainly by youth and younger generations, whose degree of awareness on women's health issues was the prime target of the speakers.

"It had always been a perception that cancer is the leading cause of women death, but the truth is that heart disease is," says Dr Gamal Shaaban, professor of cardiology at Egypt's National Institute for Heart Diseases.

Shaaban adds that it has often been thought that women are immune to strokes and heart-related problems before they hit menopause, but it is not the case, including in Egypt where recent years have witnessed a surge in the number of young women suffering such conditions.

To keep a woman's heart safe, Shaaban advises constant monitoring of blood pressure levels, exercising regularly, and maintaining a good weight.

"An appropriate waist measure for women should be around 85 centimetres and for men 95 centimetres."

Finally, Shaaban underlines the importance of avoiding smoking — including shisha.

"All over the world, while cigarette consumption is declining, we (in Egypt) have reached an epidemic in regards to smoking. Annually, 80 million cigarettes are smoked in Egypt, that is to say, we burn seven million pounds each year in the ashtray, equivalent almost to half the budget of healthcare in the country."

Light was shed also on another health aspect: diabetes among women. Dr Hala El-Esawy, a consultant on diabetes, says that every day is a good day to talk to people and raise their awareness.

She states that in Egypt the registered cases of diabetes in 2015 are a whopping 10 million. This number is expected to reach 20 million due to the increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

She added that It is very common to witness cases of Type-2 diabetes among young children, and that women in the country should check for pre-diabetes earlier, to avoid complications.

For those already suffering from the condition, they should learn more and treat diabetes like a friend: be good to it, and it will accompany you in harmony with your life.

"Among the mainstream of the population, culture had embedded an extremely negative perception: that a man wants his wife to be healthy, otherwise he would abandon her," says Dr Ahmed Mahmoud, professor of gynecology at Cairo University.

"This led to generations of women living in denial in regards to their complaints and healthcare. The direct result was a lack of awareness and very late diagnoses of diseases," Mahmoud says.

"There is general lack of sympathy towards women. People sympathise and tend to reach out with help when it comes to young kids, although women face enormous health challenges."

The biggest challenge is the degree of awareness and patient compliance.

As the manager of the gynecology section at Kasr El-Aini Hospital, which is the oldest and largest government affiliated hospital in Egypt, Mahmoud says the section consists of 300 beds, receiving 200 cases for follow-up on pregnancy. Sometimes the number in labour per day can reach 70 cases.

"Nevertheless, we never complain of a lack of doctors or medical supplies, but rather the lack of awareness of women who underestimate the importance of taking good care of their health," says Mahmoud.

He stresses that malnutrition and not taking basics supplements is mainstream.

Being admitted to the hospital suffering from eclampsia due to high blood pressure is extremely common.

One of the most important initiatives launched recently in Egypt in regards to raising awareness about women's health issues is "You Are the Most Important," inaugurated by Dr Amr Hassan, lecturer in gynecology, who took to the podium stressing that there should be more education afforded to women in regard to the importance of keeping a chart of vital numbers that indicate how well their bodies and health are.

These numbers include measurements of weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, among other indicators.

It is very common in many countries to integrate these health awareness basics in schools curricula.

In Egypt, nothing in that regard is heard of, "which is probably why we see cases of 16-year-old pregnant ladies being admitted to hospital with seizures due to eclampsia, just because she didn’t monitor her blood pressure. Cases of rheumatoid fevers sill exist in kids after almost vanishing from many places in the world, just because of lack of awareness."

"We aim to let women know the importance of basic information like the buildup of calcium inside the female body in the first 20 years of her life, the importance of good nutrition and adequate personal hygiene, and finally knowing the indicators of her health through basic measurements, thus keeping many diseases at bay," Hassan concluded.

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