On the 26th of January 2021, Women’s Institute for Leadership Development held the first edition of the Virtual Doctor Online Chat Room where Doctor Melissa C Bhebe a practising resident doctor was speaking on feminine hygiene in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 150 participants attended the meeting with the majority being women who were able to share the challenges that they are facing with regards to access to sexual and reproductive health rights and other basic health care due to the COVID-19 regulations. The following issues were discussed:
Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (contraceptives)
During the chat women expressed concern that as much as they are willing to be in control of their reproductive health, the lockdown has presented challenges for women with regards to access to contraceptive methods. Women said they are having challenges in cases where local clinics do not have the contraceptives which in most cases are readily available in pharmacies that are located in the CBD. However, due to the lockdown regulations, one can only get into the CBD if they are in possession of exemption letters. This has resulted in unplanned pregnancies which may cause a strain to family life. Dr Bhebe highlighted the need for women to be proactive during this crisis by preparing for the future through stocking up on contraceptives for 2-3 months in advance.
Dr Bhebe offered home remedies for women advising that they can use warm water bottles on the lower abdomen and lower back. Dr Bhebe shared that the best over the counter medication for period pains without one seeing a doctor include Mefanamic acid tablets, Ibuprofen and Mepiridol. She advised those with heavy menstrual flows to enrich their diet with foods that can increase their blood levels such as spinach and other green leafy vegetables, liver, and other forms of red meat. However, in cases where they feel dizzy or experience a continuous headache and difficulties breathing, she advised that they present themselves to their nearest clinic.
Presenting on women who suffer miscarriages during the lockdown, Dr Bhebe said that they need to go to a hospital or health care centre as soon as possible. She pointed out that women who present late with miscarriages are at high risk of infections if left unattended. She therefore, implored women to treat such situations as emergencies. Women said that in some cases they end up getting infections after miscarriages as they do not afford womb-cleaning services. Dr Bhebe, however, shared that some public hospitals offer free womb-cleaning services for women who have suffered miscarriages.
Pregnant women and lactating mothers
Dr Bhebe said that at the moment there is no clear or substantiated evidence to the effect that pregnant women who are infected with coronavirus can pass it to their unborn children. However, she emphasised that the chances are there that the mother can transmit to the child and called for precautions to be taken by the mother. She highlighted that after giving birth and the mother still has COVID-19 symptoms, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, the mother and child should not be separated so that they are able to bond. The recommendation is for the mother to take extra precaution when breastfeeding as separation may cause problems of bonding between mother and child. Dr Bhebe highlighted that if the mother has tested positive for COVID-19, she has to wear her mask properly. She also advised that mothers should always wash their hands thoroughly and the surface of the breasts before breastfeeding. She said that it is crucial for breastfeeding women to maintain good hygiene so that they do not expose their children to COVID-19 infections.
Dr Bhebe went on to present on mental health during the pandemic and said that families should cultivate a culture of speaking out about pain and grief. She said that families need to be open and supportive in cases of anxiety and prioritise each other’s mental health. Dr Bhebe highlighted that children and toddlers are difficult to control in closed spaces and said that families should use their discretion to allow their children to go out for walks and any other activities that will ensure that they are not alone for prolonged periods of time. Dr Bhebe said that the earliest signs of anxiety and depression can be social withdrawal, change in behaviour, aggression or when having a conversation someone has nothing positive to say and sometimes feeling suicidal. She encouraged women to always be on the lookout for these signs on family members.
Use of herbs and traditional methods in alleviating COVID-19 symptoms
Dr Bhebe highlighted that this is a critical time for women to get all the available information on the use of herbs and traditional methods. She pointed out that the challenge is that most of the traditional methods are unverified and there’s no reliable research as to the effectiveness. She said that there are many risks with using herbs and people react differently to medication she therefore said that herbs should be used at own discretion. She emphasised that women should take care when it comes to steaming as there has been a rise in cases of children getting burnt during steaming. Parents should take the necessary precautions and monitor the child during steaming and exercise care not to injure themselves and the children. She however emphasised that herbs do not treat COVID-19, they may clear congestion in the nasal passage allowing for better flow of air.
Women who participated in the Online Chat Room said the session empowered women on feminine health issues which are usually neglected as traditional society shies away from such discussions.
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