Navigating PCOS in Africa: Strategies for Inclusive Healthcare for Women

Introduction

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition that affects women of reproductive age. It presents a significant public health challenge globally, and Africa is no exception. In this thought leadership article, we delve into the unique context of PCOS in Africa, emphasizing strategies for inclusive healthcare and leveraging technology to empower women. 

PCOS: A Silent Epidemic 

Understanding PCOS 

PCOS affects an estimated 8–13% of reproductive-aged women worldwide, but up to 70% of affected women remain undiagnosed. It is characterized by hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, excess androgen levels, and ovarian cysts. Infertility often accompanies PCOS, making it a leading cause of reproductive challenges. 

The African Context 

In Africa, PCOS manifests differently due to ethnic variations and cultural factors. Metabolic complications are more pronounced, and the biological and psychological effects—such as obesity, body image concerns, and infertility—can lead to mental health challenges and social stigma. Nigeria, as a populous African nation, faces unique healthcare disparities, making it crucial to tailor interventions to local needs. 

Strategies for Inclusive Healthcare 

1. Awareness and Education 

  • Community Engagement: Collaborate with local leaders, community health workers, and women’s groups to raise awareness about PCOS. Use culturally sensitive materials and language to educate women about symptoms, risk factors, and available resources. 
  • School Programs: Introduce PCOS education in schools to empower young girls with knowledge about their bodies, reproductive health, and endocrine system. 

2. Screening and Diagnosis 

  • Mobile Clinics: Deploy mobile clinics to remote areas, offering free PCOS screenings. Utilize point-of-care ultrasound technology for efficient diagnosis. 
  • Community Health Workers: Train community health workers to recognize PCOS symptoms and refer women for further evaluation. 

3. Holistic Care 

  • Nutrition and Lifestyle: Food plays a vital role in both the spread of hormonal disruption that exacerbates latent PCOS symptoms and the resolution to achieve balance. Encourage Women diagnosed with PCOS to partake in a rich diet full of whole grains, low to moderate glycaemic index (GI) fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, and to avoid excessive consumption of refined sugars and processed foods.
  • Mental Health Support: Offer counseling services to address anxiety, depression, and body image concerns. 
  • Fertility Clinics: Establish specialized fertility clinics equipped with advanced reproductive technologies. 

4. Technology as an Enabler 

  • Telemedicine: Leverage telehealth platforms for virtual consultations, especially in underserved areas. 
  • Mobile Apps: Develop user-friendly apps for symptom tracking, medication reminders, and lifestyle management. 
  • AI and Big Data: Harness artificial intelligence and data analytics to personalize treatment plans and predict PCOS-related complications. 

Inspire Inclusion: IWD 2024 Theme 

The theme for International Women’s Day 2024, “Inspire Inclusion,” highlights the importance of creating a more inclusive world for women. In the context of healthcare, inclusion means ensuring that all women, regardless of their background or circumstances, have access to the care and support they need. For women with PCOS in Africa, this means addressing barriers to diagnosis and treatment, promoting education and awareness, and empowering women to take control of their health.

Here are some actionable steps you can take to “inspire inclusion” in your community:

  1. Join or Sponsor Support Groups:
    • Look for local or online support groups dedicated to PCOS. Support and share with a relative, friend or colleague who has been diagnosed with PCOS. Connecting with fellow women who share similar experiences can provide emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of community.
  1. Educate Yourself and Others:
    • Learn more about PCOS to better understand its challenges and impact. Share this knowledge with friends, family, and community members.
  • Attend workshops, webinars, or conferences related to PCOS. Stay informed about the latest research and treatment options.
  1. Be an Advocate:
    • Raise awareness about PCOS within your community. Organize awareness campaigns, distribute informational pamphlets, and engage in conversations.
  • Encourage healthcare providers to receive specialized training on PCOS diagnosis and management.
  1. Promote Inclusivity:
    • Recognize that PCOS affects women of diverse backgrounds. Tailor your support to address cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic differences.
    • Advocate for inclusive healthcare policies that consider the unique needs of women with PCOS.
  1. Lifestyle Support:
    • Encourage healthy lifestyle choices. Emphasize the importance of balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and stress management.
  • Offer cooking classes or workshops focused on PCOS-friendly meals.
  1. Tech Solutions:
    • Leverage technology to create a supportive environment. Share reliable online resources, apps, and forums where women can connect and exchange information.
  • Explore telehealth options for virtual consultations and support.

Conclusion 

Navigating PCOS in Africa requires a multifaceted approach—one that combines cultural sensitivity, technological innovation, and community engagement. Let us inspire inclusion, ensuring that no woman is left behind in the fight against PCOS. 

Remember, together, we can empower women, one informed decision at a time. 

Writer’s Profile:

Seyi Amao is a highly accomplished and globally-minded professional with an impressive track record in Brand Development, Communication, and Strategy implementation. With over fourteen years of experience working across three continents, she has established herself as a true cosmopolitan.

Currently serving as the Head of Brand, Marketing, and Communications at a renowned technology company, Seyi effortlessly combines her expertise in these areas with her passion for entrepreneurship and advocacy for women’s reproductive health. Her initiative, @pcosconquerors, is making a significant impact by fostering collaboration and raising awareness for women dealing with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Through this platform, she has also created a supportive community that encourages women on their journey to improved health. She and members of her community were recently featured in a documentary produced by Stephanie Coker Aderinokun titled “Where the Heck is My Period”; which was screened at Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF2022) and will be available on Amazon Prime Video in March 2024.

In recognition of her outstanding contributions, Seyi was honored as one of the 100 women of impact by the esteemed Richer Woman and Vanguard Allure in 2022, as well as one of the top 35 under 35 marketing professionals in Nigeria by BrandCom. She is known for her captivating speaking abilities and has showcased her talents on a global stage, delivering a winning speech at the World Trade Center in Grenoble, France in 2014.

Furthermore, Seyi is a gifted writer, having debuted her first novel, Bolatito, which was selected as one of the CBC Top 20 Nigerian Books in 2021. Her commitment to projecting Nigeria shines through in all her endeavors, making her not only a women and brand enabler but also a true ambassador for her country. With her diverse skill set, unwavering dedication, and commitment to making a positive impact, Seyi Amao stands as a remarkable professional who continues to inspire and lead by example.


References:

  1. PCOS Conqueror IG Platform | Website
  2. PCOS Awareness Association
  3. World Health Organization (WHO). Polycystic ovary syndrome.
  4. Jean Hailes. Managing PCOS in Indigenous Communities: A Community-Led Approach.
  5. United Nations. Inclusive Health Services for Persons with Disabilities.
  6. McCall, L. (2005). The Complexity of Intersectionality.
  7. Teede, H. J., Misso, M. L., Costello, M. F., Dokras, A., Laven, J., Moran, L., … & Norman, R. J. (2018). Recommendations from the international evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome.
  8. Inclusive Health Systems: Innovations towards Health Equity in Africa 
  9. International Women’s Day 2024 Theme 

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