Fibroids: A woman’s nightmare

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Image credit: Association for Women's Health Care

By SIZALOKUHLE NCUBE

Rudo Nyathi** (30) says since she began menstruating as a teenager, her cycle have been very painful.

The intense pain has been part of her life for more than two decades. She could not seek medical assistance as parents and peers said pain during menstruation is normal.

Several people recommended natural herbs, but this did not solve the problem as she continued to experience heavy bleeding and unbearable pain.

 “The bleeding was unbearable, and I also experienced back pain. My menstrual cycles were inconsistent and changing, and I had no idea that I was actually developing tumours,” Nyathi explained.

“I could not do any household chores.  A lot of tests were done which depleted my finances. I then went for a pelvic scan and was told that my uterus had fibroids. It was difficult to accept the news because I thought that my uterus would be removed and I would never have children.

“The gynaecologist reassured me that fibroids are non-cancerous and can be removed through different medical options, thereby preserving the uterus,” she said.

A graphic image showing a health uterus and fibroid uterus
Image by: Everyday Health

Nyathi said when she received the invoice detailing the cost of the surgical operation to treat her condition; her heart sank as she could not afford. Total costs topped US$3000 for the operation, hospital fees inclusive.

 “A friend of mine then introduced me to people who sell herbs as an alternative remedy.  I bought those for six months hoping it would end the problem as I could not afford the costs of the operation. The problem persisted despite me taking the herbs. I lost a lot of blood due to heavy menstrual bleeding caused by these fibroids.”

Eventually she was forced to look for the money for the operation.

Rudo is not the only woman living a painful life due to female reproductive health complications. Of late, a lot of women are suffering daily and they go unchecked due to lack of funds, ending up taking cheaper herbal remedies as an alternative solution. However, many of these have not been tested and there is no scientific evidence that they are effective.

The consequences are that many have been duped by bogus herbalists who took advantage of their desperation at the same time increasing risk of having other health complications.

Some might even end up not able to conceive or lose their lives after being attended to by non-medical opportunists.

In today’s society, childlessness is highly stigmatized, and women who are unable to bear children face significant social and psychological consequences. If untreated, reproductive health issues such as fibroids make it difficult to conceive.

Uterine fibroids pose a significant economic burden mostly due to high surgical, procedural costs and treatment. Women are losing more of their savings buying herbs with the hope that it will take away their pain and suffering.

Susan Fadzai** (29) said after suffering from fibroids, was referred to a local herbal distributor company which also promised several miracles. The company said they were offering full body scans for several health problems.

“The herbal company is just a small room in the city centre with staff that looks unqualified. They have their “radiologist” who displays his ‘professional’ certificates to make one believe they are legit and specially trained to perform these scans.”

“I was shocked with how they conducted their full body scan which to me appeared like a huge scam. It was a pseudoscience scam. A Quantum magnetic analyser (QRMA) was used for my general health check-up, and I was handed what they called my results. I was told that I had lung infection, eye problems, dehydration and too much fat in the arteries. I could not believe what this “doctor” spewed. How can this QRMA show all these results in less than ten minutes? The test results descriptions sounded made up,” Susan said.

A survey of price tags for fibroid removal and treatment by private gynaecologists revealed that many Zimbabwean women cannot afford it. From the consultation stage to the last recommended medical procedure for this reproductive challenge a lot of money is required. There is a steep price tag on reproductive health care and it has made accessing care and treatment a dream for many women.

Private gynaecologists are charging from US$50 to US$100 for consultation fees. The fibroid removal costs include the gynaecologist’s fee which ranges from US$1200 to US$1500, aesthetician fees pegged at an exorbitant price of US$900, hospital fees which range from US$465 to US$650. These hospital fees might change depending on supplies to be used during the surgical procedure and how many days one would be hospitalised after the operation.

The average monthly salary for most people in the country is $20 000 and a lot of women are unemployed.

The public health sector is severely under-resourced, and private health care is expensive. Reproductive health issues such as fibroids are not perceived as an emergency, which is why health insurance companies do not cover them.

Social media is now awash with advertisements of herbalists that claim to cure several ailments including fibroids.

Many women with fibroids are suffering in silence because they cannot afford treatment.  Several women are suffering from uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous growths or tumours in the uterus. Their cause is still unknown but evidence shows that female hormones increase the growth of these tumours. Recent studies show that there is an increase in the number of women developing fibroids.

“These fibroids pose several risks if they are left untreated for a long time. The risks include anaemia, fertility challenges, chronic pelvic pain, growth retardation of the foetus, miscarriages and premature delivery. They affect a woman’s work and sexual life,” a renowned gynaecologist based in Harare said.

**Not real name