Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: Lango’s Silent Epidemic

This post is written by Florence Ocen.

I remember way back– way, way back when I was a teenager living in what is now Kole district in Lango sub-region, I overheard a conversation between two men who were working in our yard. One was very angry and he was confiding in his friend how ashamed he was of his wife. She had committed the ultimate crime – ate chicken, secretly in the kitchen. You see, in Lango at that time women were not supposed to eat eggs or chicken. Those were foods enjoyed only by men. The friend said “she must be very ashamed!”  And she probably was made to feel very ashamed that she broke a cultural norm. She was ashamed that if the other women heard about it she would be the subject of gossip and yes, she would be despised and would become an outcast in the village.

During a campaign, 80% of the women screened in this sub-region had Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). Most of the women suffered in silence as they struggled to go through their daily routines. And yes, these women were probably ashamed that the doctors found out they had PID. I wonder whether they even told their husbands when they got home after the screening.

The screening exercise was organised by Isis-WICCE and its partners during the Annual Peace exposition in Lira where they launched the Zero Tolerance campaign on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Over a period of seven days, a total of 1833 women were screenedf from Amolatar, Otuke and Lira. [Source: Isis-WICCE]

After screening the medical team identified and treated the commonest condition; 1521 women had chronic pelvic pain, which is a symptom of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is caused by infections that could have risen from the sexual violence or other infections but becomes chronic due to lack of medical care.

Chronic pelvic pain was common among most women who had been abducted and those displaced to IDP camps for several years.

Majority of the women (1191) assessed were formerly abducted and sexually abused and have suffered from lower abdominal pain for several years.

Dr. Otim also noted that most women expressed difficulty in performing manual work like farming. Since the community in Lira district is of mainly peasant farmers (88% of those assessed are peasant farmers) this implies that the women cannot easily engage in agricultural activities.

In addition, the lower abdominal pain poses a great challenge in the women’s sexual lives as many reported having painful sexual intercourse. [Source: New Vision]*

I, together with the Lango Association of North America, have decided to launch a crowd funding campaign to address the PID issue. The screening that was done last year only covered women in three of the eight districts in the region. We need to help the other five districts, as well as make sure all of them are able to access treatment.

While some of the responses have been encouraging, I was infuriated the other day when some of our brothers told me that I was bringing shame to the women of Lango by openly admitting that they have PID.

So in addition to abduction, sexual violence, infections that were not treated, these women are likely made to remain silent and feel ashamed of their condition. But why? Why should a woman be made to feel ashamed of eating chicken? It is normal to eat and one should be able to eat whatever it is they wish to eat unless it makes them sick. It is also normal to get sick and the normal thing to do is seek help when one is sick.

I am not going to be ashamed and be silent as the women experience such pelvic pain every day- as the work in the fields, as they lay with their husbands. What we should be ashamed of is our pretense that the problem does not exist. That our mothers, aunts, grandmothers and sisters live in daily agony; for some, the PID is chronic. It is not okay to let the women continue to suffer in silence.

I am not going to be ashamed and be silent as the women experience such pelvic pain every day- as the work in the fields, as they lay with their husbands. What we should be ashamed of is our pretense that the problem does not exist. That our mothers, aunts, grandmothers and sisters live in daily agony; for some, the PID is chronic. It is not okay to let the women continue to suffer in silence.

I am enraged and I tremble when I think about this.  About two weeks ago, world leaders met in Toronto, Canada to address the issue of Child and Maternal health. The world leaders were urged to focus on the millions of “invisible” children and women who die each year of preventable causes. Here is a quote from Melinda Gates to the world leaders, “When I talk to health ministers from developing countries they want to hear how we can reduce mortality. When I talk to finance ministers, they want to hear how we can increase GDP. Well let’s make sure everybody knows that the answer is the same in both cases: invest in the health of both women and children”. Thank you Mrs. Gates. I rest my case.

Our campaign can be viewed at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pelvic-inflammatory-disease-debilitates-women-in-northern-uganda

 *Namirimu, Esther. “Cervical Cancer: Uganda’s leading silent killer of women” http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/651511-cervical-cancer-uganda-s-leading-silent-killer-of-women.html New Vision Published Jan 16th, 2014. Accessed May 31st, 2014.
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