THE WELL WOMAN’S CLINIC
Every year, hundreds of thousands of women die of diseases which could have been detected earlier and treated promptly. Studies have shown that majority of women access healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth only. This makes it imperative to incorporate several preventive care services into maternity services, so that more women can benefit.
It is important to enlighten women on the need to attend regular health checks despite the absence of apparent disease. In fact, a lot of deadly diseases can go unnoticed for several years and you can only know if you go for screening. This is the essence of the well woman’s clinic. Most health centres provide this service, or something similar under a different name. It could be a stand-alone clinic that requires a separate appointment, or it could be part of the general clinics. Ask your local health center for further information.
The well woman’s clinic usually includes:
*General health checks: These are basic examinations like blood pressure measurement, weight and blood sugar checks. Women who are at risk of certain diseases due to family history (for example, hypertension) should get themselves checked at least annually, or more frequently as they get older than 40.
*Breast examination: Breast cancer is one of the commonest cause of mortality worldwide and one of the most important ways to reduce the mortality is through early detection and treatment. Women should ensure that they do breast self examination every month and also schedule a clinical examination for a closer look.
*Pelvic examination: This involves the examination of the vulva, vagina and cervix. Infections and Pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix can be present without any symptom. Over 80% of deaths from cervical cancer come from developing countries due to lack of adequate screening programmes. Direct visualisation and laboratory assessments will show early stages of the disease which can then be treated before they progress to advanced stages.
*Immunizations: There are some immunization shots that should be renewed periodically and seasonally. Some are necessary for adults who did not get theirs during childhood while others are required for travel purposes. Worthy of mention is the HPV vaccine which is highly protective against the virus that causes genital warts and cervical cancer. Girls aged 9 to 12 and adults up to 26 years should endeavour to get this vaccination.
*Premarital and preconceptional care: Marriage and parenting are important life events that one needs to be prepared for, not only financially but also physically and mentally. Couples are encouraged to go for health checks and relevant tests (HIV, Hepatitis, blood group, haemoglobin genotype, etc) before getting married. This may also include genetic counselling for couples with diseases that run in their family.
*General information and support: Women should be able to get up-to-date information about any topic related to their health and well-being. Information around menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, family planning and menopause should be made available onsite, in addition to what is obtainable on the internet or print media. Whether you are a post-pubertal adolescent or post-menopausal grandma, you can walk into the clinic and get your doubts cleared.
In conclusion, the well woman’s clinic is an essential part of maternity services designed for all women within the reproductive age group as well as elderly women. Maternal morbidity and mortality will be reduced to the barest minimum if all women are able to access and afford all forms of preventive care.