Improving women’s healthcare and access to healthcare is key to building resilient and healthy communities. As we mark International Women’s Day today, Western Cape healthcare workers have come together to raise awareness about women’s health and various free health services available to assist women to make informed decisions about their health.
You don’t need to wait until you feel sick to access healthcare services, says Dr Mumtaz Abbas, a family physician at the Bishop Lavis Community Day Centre.
It is always best that women visit clinics or doctors for a general check-up at least once a year. “The frequency of visits depends on your age, risk factors, family history and your general health status. If you are over 50 years of age and have chronic illnesses, you may need to visit your doctor twice per year or more frequently depending on your condition.”
These are four more things women can do to protect their health with no cost at local clinics:
Get screened regularly
Abbas shares other important screenings that women can access for free at their local clinics, including screening tests for blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, height, body mass index (BMI), breast examination and HIV tests.
A pap smear may not always be comfortable but can save your life. The screening programme is aimed at finding and treating early signs of cancer of the cervix or “mouth of the womb”.
The screening involves taking a pap (or cervical) smear, which is a simple, quick vaginal examination to check if the cervix is healthy. Some cells are gently wiped off the cervix and sent to the laboratory for testing.
Regularly seek mental support
Your mental health matters, says community psychologist Kirsty Rice.“Women may also face additional stressors, such as gender-based violence. The impact of Covid-19 hasn’t made things easier,” she says.
Rice is a practicing psychologist at the Stikland Hospital and says that it is important to take “pause” and to make time for yourself and to seek support should things feel overwhelming. “Pause. You could try to meditate and practicing mindfulness is known to reduce stress and anxiety,” she says.
If meditation is not your cup of relaxation tea, do not hesitate to reach out to Lifeline at 021 461 1113 or Sadag at 0800 12 13 14 or your local clinic and asking for mental health services. “No matter how you’re feeling, there are always options and things you can try,” Rice advises.
A healthy habit goes a long way
Maintaining a balance between one’s mental and physical well-being is all part of self-care, notes Dr Thaakirah Toefy of Bishop Lavis CDC. “Exercise is an important contributor to healthy living,” says Toefy.
Ideally one should dedicate at least 30 minutes per day for five days of the week toward exercise.
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s rest, Toefy adds.
“A good night’s rest is an essential fuel to take on every new day. It consists of 7 – 8 hours of quality sleep and maintaining a regular sleep pattern. This keeps natural hormones balanced which is also important for mental and physical well-being.”
Knowledge is power
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) including diabetes and cancers have been a leading cause of death among women for decades, responsible for three in every four deaths among women each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr Nosi Kalawe works in the district health office in the Northern and Tygerberg Substructure. Kalawe says that women can access free healthcare at their healthcare facilities to detect and treat non-communicable diseases, especially breast cancer.
“Talk to your nurse at your local clinic immediately if you notice an unusual lump in your breast or any change in the appearance, feel or shape of your breasts.
“Reproductive and maternal health are also important for factors to consider for women’s health. “At the clinic, we also check for HIV. If positive, we will provide ARVs and support to prevent the unborn baby from getting HIV,” says Kalawe.
Kalawe adds, “There are also medicines that prevent pregnancy, such as contraceptives, pills, injectables, implants and even what we call ‘the loop’. A healthcare practitioner can help you choose what is suitable for you.”