Susan Wanjiru – PAWAS

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

Surgery is important in women’s health because women are a fundamental part of the society we live in.

Surgery can prevent a large number of deaths from cancers of the female reproductive system and breast cancer – causes of significant morbidity and mortality in our region. By ensuring access to optimum healthcare for women, the family unit – and the primary care giver in most homes – is supported.

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

The main challenge remains a lack of respect. We can be undermined by colleagues and other supportive staff, and there is still a reluctance to give women administrative roles, due to the perception that they will place family needs before those of the department. The hours in surgical disciplines are also challenging, and women end up earning less as they try to juggle family life and work.

As a member of PAWAS, I have had the opportunity to have the support of a continental sisterhood which has been helpful in discussing and addressing some of these challenges. I am looking forward to exploring the scope of this as our network continues to grow.

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

They’re varied and complicated. Challenges include :

-lack of transport

-lack of income

-lack of empowerment as regards their own health and that of their children

-lack of education

-traditional belief systems

-lack of trust in the health system by close family members

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

There’s a lot we can do to push this vital work forward together. Public education is important to tackle belief systems and to alert patients on when to seek medical care, while offering mobile clinics in remote areas would make it immediately easier for them to do so sooner. Together, female doctors and their patients can also push for local governments to have special ambulance services especially for maternity services to allow access to health facilities.

Education is as critical as access. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of patients either – they can be powerful teachers for their communities upon discharge. Female doctors can make themselves more accessible to their female patients, with home visits and an increased educational role within families on the need for surgical management of certain conditions.

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

Over time, women have moved into the roles of primary physicians and principal surgeons in larger numbers. There are also more women in administrative and key government roles who are now in a position to influence policies in medicine.

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

Parity for professional women in healthcare means equal opportunities for employment and career advancement, equal respect, equal pay and an opportunity to influence policy in their respective specialties.