Chibuzo Ijeoma – PAWAS

Why is surgery such an important aspect of women’s health?

Surgery is a broad area of specialization that cuts across race, tribe and gender. But the impact of the surgical revolution on the outcome of breast cancer – the most common female cancer – has been priceless. Breast conservation has reduced negative body image issues, without compromising cure. Cervical cancer is another disease ravaging homes, and the woman is the stronghold of the home. But it too is amenable to cure by surgical means if detected early.

Health, according to WHO, is a complete state of physical, social, psychological, economic and spiritual well-being -not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Beyond the above urgencies surgery can, in the case of aesthetic procedures, help to support mental health.

What are some of the challenges facing women working in surgery, and how is your organisation working to address these?

Women occupy key positions both within and without surgery – but my experience is that women are frequently not heard until they make some noise!

Being part of PAWAS has given me an opportunity to amplify my voice

and add it to a collective, continental dialogue. It will be interesting to see how we can influence African narratives on health as we continue to grow as a group.

What are some of the challenges facing women trying to access safe surgery?

Financial constraints. I am from Nigeria, and poverty is omnipresent. Women constitute a large proportion of the unskilled workforce, where financial remunerations are low, capital assets are relatively non-existent, and they have to rely on the man and their extended family for support. This may delay presentation at a hospital, making conditions worse before presentation, and worsening outcomes.

Diseases like VVF (vesicovaginal fistulae) or breast cancer may result in husbands abandoning their wives, leaving them both impoverished and unhealthy. Recent literature showed that the divorce rate of women following a diagnosis of breast cancer in Nigeria is almost 40% versus a national average of about 2 %.

A high level of illiteracy and lack of awareness amongst women is also responsible for later presentation.

How can female doctors and patients work together to ensure access to safe and essential health care services including surgery and anaesthesia?

There could be campaigns to render free health care services including surgery to patients. Literacies could be organized. Health talks to increase awareness of these surgical diseases are critical.

How have women’s roles in medicine changed over the years?

They have diversified their roles and gotten stronger.

This year’s theme for IWD is ‘pledge for parity,’ what does this mean for professional women in African healthcare?

It means that irrespective of professional heights attained, the African

accomplished woman plays many roles. She is still a daughter, a sister and mother and would not trade that in for anything. The pledge for parity means one should no longer have to choose between these roles!