As the world observes Women’s History Month, a time that is designated to reflect on the contributions that women of the past and present have made to society, It is equally important to identify some of the common issues that affect women in Jamaica.
Undoubtedly, women are considered the backbone of society who oftentimes work behind the scene to make endless sacrifices for their families, their country and future generations. Through the process, many women place less focus on their health while others simply just cannot afford health care services.
A joint report published by UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2020, titled Challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the health of women, children and adolescents revealed that the pandemic has created setbacks in women’s access to reproductive and sexual health services in the Caribean and Latin America.
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic women in the region experienced challenges in accessing healthcare services caused by socio-economic barriers such as age, economic status, and geographic location.
There are several diseases that affect Jamaican women, which affect families, place a strain on the healthcare system and also have economic implications on the country.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers that affect Jamaican women. Cervical cancer refers to a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the cervix.
According to data from the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS), the incidence of cervical cancer is much higher in Jamaica compared to other Caribbean countries, with approximately 200 women dying annually from cervical cancer.
In 2020, Jamaica recorded 386 new cases of cervical cancer.
In order to tackle this public health issue, women are recommended to do regular screening to aid in early detection. They are encouraged to begin screening from the age of 25 with HPV testing. This is a test that measures the amount of human papillomavirus that is present in the body that causes the cancer.
A pap smear test is another screening method that is employed by health officials to detect any abnormal changes in the cervix. It is recommended that women between the ages of 21 to 65 conduct a pap smear every three years.
Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in Jamaican women. According to statistics from the Jamaica Cancer Observatory in 2020, Jamaica recorded 1, 208 cases of breast cancer.
There are several risk factors for women developing breast cancer such as age, genes, lifestyle choices and physical inactivity.
Likewise, studies have shown that mammogram testing is underutilized by Jamaican women. Mammography refers to a screening method that is employed by oncologists to detect cancerous cells in the breast.
Women ages 50 and older are recommended to do a mammogram every two years.
Coronary heart disease is another common health condition that affects Jamaican women mainly because of their lifestyle choices.
A study done by the National Library of Medicine in the US revealed that black women are at a greater risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to their male counterparts.
This is mainly because black women consume more foods that are high in cholesterol, practice little to no physical activity and are at a greater risk of the disease being passed down from a blood relative.
More than 50,000 black women are diagnosed with the cardiovascular disease yearly. This should be a cause for concern among women and healthcare organizations to make better health choices and implement greater policies to tackle the growing issue.
According to the World Health Organization, stroke is one of the leading causes of death among Jamaican women after cancer.
WHO statistics revealed that stroke deaths in Jamaica accounted reached 2,479 or 13.62% of total deaths in 2018. This age-adjusted death rate is 65.41 per 100,000 of the population and ranks Jamaica 100 in the world.
Some of the common risk factors for stroke are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking.
As a method to tackle the health issue, the Jamaica Stroke Alliance was launched on World Stroke Day in October 2020 to bring awareness and provide support to persons affected by stroke.
Uterine fibroid is a common medical condition that affects several women who are of childbearing age. According to the Cleveland Clinic, uterine fibroids otherwise known as leiomyomas are growths made up of the muscle and connective tissues from the wall of the uterus. This abnormal growth in the uterus is usually non-cancerous (benign) and relatively easy to treat.
Studies have shown that between 20 to 50 per cent of women of reproductive age have uterine fibroids and 77 per cent will develop fibroids during childbearing years. The National Library of Medicine concurs that in Jamaica, uterine fibroids are the most common reason for major surgery in hospital gynaecology wards.
While this is a common issue that affects several women today, not many women are aware of the risk factors that may lead to uterine fibroids.
The risk factors for women developing uterine fibroids include age, race, family history, diet and obesity.