Sumaya Akter Tithi is a Sub-Assistant Community Medical Officer (SACMO) in Bangladesh. She tells us about supporting women during Covid-19.
What was your idea?
When the pandemic hit, I decided to provide free medical care to women in my community.
Many were suffering from diseases and infections linked to their reproductive health. Yet, they were unable to get effective treatment for several reasons:
- there is strain on hospital resources made worse by Covid-19
- two-thirds of those living under the poverty line in Bangladesh are women
- around 40 per cent of adult women living in rural areas of Bangladesh are illiterate
- there are cultural taboos around female sexual health.
I wanted to create a safe space where women could get the help they needed.
How does the service work?
I offer regular health check-ups to women. On a busy day, I can see as many as 20.
I examine their blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and the uteruses of those who show signs of cervical infection.
I see women who are suffering from lots of different conditions, including Leukorrhea, Dysmenorrhea, Amenorrhea, Menorrhagia, and Oligomenorrhea.
If I find anything concerning, I recommend next steps and use my network to try and ensure they get the help they need as soon as possible.
Over the past few months, I’ve seen around 500 women.
Have you faced any challenges?
The biggest challenge has been encouraging women to open up about their problems.
I try to explain the benefits of seeking help. The quicker they do, the more likely they are to avoid invasive and costly treatments.
I’ve worked hard to get them to trust me. I use my medical expertise to reassure them that I know what I’m talking about.
I’m also a very warm person. I don’t treat patients like patients, but like members of my family. I lend a listening ear and reassure them as much as possible.
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What skills do you need to pursue a career in public health?
It’s about building trust within the community. You need to be a friendly face, who others can open up to and rely on for good advice. You have to be sensitive, sympathetic and a good listener.
You also need to be committed. Making a success of my initiative hasn’t been easy. It’s taken a lot of determination. You will face challenges along the way, but it’s about learning from them and not giving up.
Here in Bangladesh, it helps if you’re a woman. From my experience, some are reluctant to see male physicians because of cultural stigmas around women’s health and expectations on them to stay at home and serve their families.
How do you plan to scale up the service?
It’s my dream to expand the service. I’m working with the Centre for Communication and Development in Bangladesh. I want to educate women about reproductive health so they can identify and articulate their problems.
I hope to use the Active Citizen network to share my ideas globally and inspire others. I’m keen to hear how other people are making a difference in their communities. I think we can all learn from each other.