Today marks the beginning of Endometriosis Awareness Month, an observance aimed to raise public understanding and knowledge of a condition which affects almost 200 million women worldwide. That figure, however, is almost certainly an underestimate.
As previously outlined by Health Issues India, “endometriosis is a condition in which tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus — also known as the endometrium — grows outside the uterus. The condition causes endometrial tissue to grow in areas such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes or the tissue lining the pelvis.
“On rare occasions, endometrial tissue has been known to spread beyond the pelvic region. The condition results in painful periods and can lead to further complications. This presents an additional issue in India due to the prevalence of stigma associated with menstrual health.”
For those affected by the condition, endometriosis can be debilitating. Hampering those affected even further is the social stigma attached to the condition, which further leads to lower levels of diagnoses.
Of the estimated 176 million women worldwide who suffer from endometriosis, India accounts for around 26 million. Yet, as Health Issues India has previously reported, “stigma regarding women’s health issues, including sexual health issues and menstruation is commonplace in India. This stigma plays a role in hindering efforts to estimate figures.
“Many women suffering issues related to these matters may opt to hide this from their family and are reluctant to seek out medical advice. It is recommended that if an individual suffers any abnormalities related to periods — in particular severe pain — a doctor should be sought out immediately. Resolving the issue in its earliest stages could prevent more significant health issues later in life.”
Stigma related to endometriosis engenders far-reaching effects on public health and society. As Women Deliver notes in an article,“there is still no cure and not enough research to drive the progress that is needed to improve health outcomes for those affected. In fact, it often takes up to ten years for endometriosis to be diagnosed likely due to the lack of awareness among physicians and women themselves who experience menstrual pain…the global community has an urgent responsibility to make the investments needed to help these girls and women who suffer from an “invisible” and unjust disease.“
The article specifically outlines such recommendations. They include raising endometriosis awareness among girls through sexual education programmes, supporting government and non-government organisations in campaigns aimed at raising endometriosis awareness, highlighting the far-ranging socioeconomic impacts of the endometriosis, and educating the medical community.
In addition, changes in policy and treatment are advocated for. “Acknowledging women’s sexual and reproductive health and specific illnesses in health programmes geared towards health professionals in each country is crucial in the effort to advance gender equality,” the article states. “Integrate endometriosis into reproductive, maternal, neonatal, infant and adolescent health policies and programmes. Not including it in policies and [programmes], will lead to continued lack of awareness, diagnostic delays, and inappropriate/inadequate treatment and referral of patients – particularly in resource-limited settings.” Given the vast inequities between genders in India, this is of particular note.