BY: ARFA MASIHUDDIN, M.B.B.S., BATCH XX
PHOTO CREDITS: MARYAM SHAIKH, M.B.B.S., BATCH XXII
*Bano, a cherubic eighteen-year-old, was leading a happy life till she conceived her first child. The news of this pregnancy, however, was not a happy one for her. Why? Because Bano was epileptic and the state of her health did not permit her to carry a child till her own complete recovery. Accepting what could not be undone, she was strongly advised to not miss a single dose of medication. And here’s where the archaic notion of mistaking a medical diagnosis for the mischief of the ‘jinns’ steps in to take another life – Bano’s mother-in-law stopped giving her the very necessary medications because she believed that the uncontrolled jerking movements and subtle momentary losses of awareness were the evil doings of ‘jinns’ that could only be cured by popular exorcism. Medication, she believed, was a waste of money for her ‘daughter-in-law’. No points to you for guessing what happened next. Bano lost her child.
So many Banos have fallen victim to the lack of awareness and misconceptions that govern such social dogmas that have limited accessibility to reproductive and overall health services for women. Like most problems that haunt our dear homeland, the deplorable state of health care adds to our ever-increasing list of things to lament over. Seventy years down the lane, the provision of adequate medical facilities and health awareness to all classes of people is yet to be on the nation’s list of achievements because a very small percent of our GDP is spent on health. What is even more lamentable, is the fact that those in power have not made any visible, significant efforts to correct this stagnant phenomenon, and the result of this negligence is the dismal health indicators of our country, especially the infant and maternal mortality rates.
When the man of the house falls ill, immediate actions are taken to get him treated. He is, after all, the main source of bread and butter in the house. While this may only be restricted to the lower socio-economic sector, and may not necessarily always be true, it is a sad reality. In a society where second marriages are a repugnant norm in the absence of a male child, the health care of women has long been neglected. In instances where a few are fortunate enough to have their health concerns addressed, it is surprising, neigh, appalling, to see their male ‘guardians’ as the main decision makers in the health matters of these women.
*Summaiya’s eyes mirrored nothing but helplessness when her husband refused to allow her to undergo the process of tubal ligation, a process that would prevent her from conceiving more kids, after a complicated fifth C-section that compromised her health in ways that any future pregnancies could endanger her life. Needless to say, she clearly had no say in one of the most important decisions of her life.
Another demonstration of how patriarchy has encumbered standard health care for women is the very common plague of domestic violence that has served as a petri dish for a number of psychological, gynaecological, and obstetric complications including lack of access to family planning services, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, other complications pertaining to frequent and high risk pregnancies, and postpartum depression.
The dangerous concept of home deliveries in rural and tribal areas is a major reason why often life-threatening conditions go undiagnosed, giving rise to multiple complications later in life.
Thirteen-year-old *Kinza was brought to the general practitioner with complaints of bloatedness and abdominal distention. On referral to a gynaecologist, she was diagnosed with cystadenoma, a benign form of ovarian cancer, that could easily be treated with surgical intervention. The surgery changed her life forever, in ways she could not have imagined. Medical negligence on the doctor’s part led to her bilateral oophorectomy and a hysterectomy, all at the tender age of thirteen. It is an unfortunate fact that our society is plagued by an ideology that weighs an average woman’s worth against her fertility, and the slightest of empathy can enable us to see the devastating psychological effects this may have had on the young girl and on her family.
The nation’s founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had made a strong point – “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.” And in order to achieve the kind of success that a revolutionist like Jinnah dreamt of, we need to acknowledge the fact that only a physically and mentally healthy woman can play her part with responsibility.
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we – the future of this nation – must not only pledge to play our part in practically improving the health standards for our women, but we must also hold ourselves true to the notion that actions speak louder than words; be it through voluntary medical services in the underprivileged areas or a general campaign to raise awareness amongst the masses, as future health practitioners, it is our responsibility to play our part with honesty and sincerity. Only when her health – physical and mental – is prioritised, can a woman serve the nation; be it as a trained doctor, engineer, pilot, army officer, teacher, or through the very powerful role of a mother.
We may not yet be qualified enough to prescribe simple painkillers to our patients, but we must be sensitive and responsible enough to realize that sometimes, it takes more than a couple of lab tests to reach the correct diagnosis and more than a few pills to treat certain ailments; our attitude and approach could, after all, be a determinant of the future of a generation. Because it’s not just a living bag of bones and flesh that you’re ‘dealing’ with, it’s someone’s past, present, and most importantly, someone’s future.
Even as struggling, ambitious medical students – we actually can make a difference.
Do not be a mere statistic attending walks and seminars in favour of feminism.
Be the difference that you wish to see.
Bless the change that you wish to catalyse.
Be aware of this.
Make a difference.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the patients.
About the author: Robbins for breakfast, Rumi for lunch, ArfaMasihuddin.WordPress.com for dinner.