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‘We have to better support women’: MP leading the fight on menopause

menopause

‘We have to better support women’: MP leading the fight on menopause

Carolyn Harris remembers hearing her mother and aunties talking about “the change” menopause. She was told to make a cup of tea and sent out of the room. “I was 36!” hoots the Labour MP for Swansea East. “Later I said to my mum, ‘What did you think you were protecting me from? It was always going to happen to me too’.”

Harris is now at the vanguard of a movement determined to smash the remnants of that taboo, pushing a private member’s bill to turn up the volume on a debate about the menopause that is growing louder by the day.

As an increasing number of countries, businesses and individuals mark World Menopause Day on Monday, Harris says she is ready to shame whoever stands in the way of progress.

“You don’t get change unless you ask for it, and you demand it, or you put people in a position where they’re going to look like right bastards if they don’t do something about it,” she says with typical candour. “I want to be in a position where the government can’t say no and where companies won’t say no.”

Harris will lead a small army of supporters to Parliament Square in London before her bill, which is due to be heard on the 29 October, to demand free prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy in England – already available in Scotland and Wales. The government is said to be “interested” in the bill, with Harris adding that she has cross-party support from dozens of MPs including the Tory grandees Bernard and Anne Jenkin, alongside Caroline Nokes and Tim Loughton, as well as Jess Phillips, Diane Abbott and Sarah Champion in the Labour ranks.

“In the last two years the narrative has completely changed,” says Harris, who adds that since the private members bill was announced she’s had calls from countries from Canada and the US, to Australia and Japan.

“People are waking up to the fact that we have to find a better way of supporting women through the menopause,” she says. “Women are enhanced coming through this process, but only if they get the support they need.”

The evidence suggests they all too often don’t. There are more than 13 million currently experiencing menopause or perimenopause in the UK. Menopause campaigners argue that medical sexism and a lack of training means many women are left to suffer the symptoms of menopause – which can include depression, anxiety, insomnia and brain fog as well as hot flushes.

The UK could be losing 14m work days a year related to the menopause, according to recent research. One in four women who experience menopausal symptoms – many at the top of their career – consider leaving their job.

Many more businesses are joining the menopause revolution, says Harris – pointing to companies such as Cult Beauty which has introduced comprehensive policies around miscarriage, IVF, pregnancy and the menopause and hosted Harris at an event last week. Alexia Inge, the company’s co-chief executive, says that with a 78% female workforce it was a moral and business imperative. “As a nation we’re actually losing people from the workforce at a time when we need people to work later in life,” she says. “Even if you take the really important social care elements away, we need to support people to go through this.”

But it’s not enough to have a policy, says Harris. “This can’t be a box-ticking exercise, companies and the government really have to genuinely want to help these workers.”

Harris’s own experience with the menopause was brutal. Twenty years after losing her eight-year-old son in a road traffic accident she blamed herself for not processing her grief when she was hit by a deep depression. “It took me six years, having conversations with women, for me to realise I was going through the menopause,” she says.

Now she wants to use her voice in parliament to speak up for those who she says are often just too tired to fight. “There’s a hell of a lot of women my age, working in supermarkets in shops and they are exhausted,” she says. “A lot of those women are going through the menopause but they are not being treated, because in 2021 there is still not enough understanding about a condition that affects 51% of the population.”

With Harris leading the charge, with an army of women alongside her, that may be starting to change. “I don’t throw stones – I’ll work with anyone to get this done,” she says. “But if I’ve got to throw boulders to get what I want, I will.”

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Lagos to convert General Hospital to eye centre

The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, says the state government will designate one of its general hospitals as a centre for ophthalmic specialty to improve care for patients with eye conditions.

Abayomi said this during the 4th Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the Africa Retina Society on Thursday in Lagos.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the event was themed, “Upscaling Retinal Services in a Resource-Constrained Economy.”

Abayomi said the centre would provide a world-class diagnostic, medical, surgical and ophthalmic services in Lagos and Nigeria.

He stressed that the state would prioritise eye health, noting that the state was working on developing screening capacity of all its primary healthcare facilities to detect eye diseases early.

“The conditions that affect the eyes very much reflect the conditions of the community in which you live. HIV, for example, was a major problem in South Africa, and I certainly experienced the impact of HIV on our day-to-day medicine and practice.

“Here in Nigeria, we have other things. We have hypertension, diabetes, sickle cell, and lots of trauma. These are the kinds of things that we see in our clinics here in Lagos and in Nigeria.

“We need to be able to understand how these prevailing conditions really affect us,” he said.

The commissioner further said that efforts are ongoing to promote eye screening, especially in schools, starting with the training of teachers to detect students exhibiting challenges with their vision.

He added that the state would leverage the social health insurance to screen, detect and treat eye diseases as patients presents at health facilities.

The commissioner further said the state would strengthen public awareness and understanding on eye health, especially glaucoma and visual acuity.

Abayomi disclosed that the state through its Ministry of Health had forged a partnership with the Chagoury Group
to develop a specialist eye hospital in Lagos to boost access to eye services.

He acknowledged that ophthalmology was equipment-intensive, stressing that government would pay attention to that and human resources to enable practitioners make appropriate diagnosis, and treatment to reverse medical tourism.

Earlier, Prof. Linda Visser, Head, Division of Ophthalmology Stellenbosch University, South Africa, called on policy makers to formulate policies that would integrate eye screening into diabetes care from the primary healthcare level, noting that cases of diabetic retinopathy was on the increase among Africans.

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a chronic progressive disease of the retinal capillaries (small blood vessels) associated with prolonged raised blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

Visser cited data from International Diabetes Foundation that showed that 537 million adults aged 20 to 79 years are living with diabetes globally, a number that was predicted to reach 1.3 billion in 50 years.

“The high prevalence of type 2 diabetes continues to rise worldwide and is particularly rapid in low- and middle income countries.

“Most of these countries have limited availability and affordability of healthcare services for screening and treating diabetes-related complications, such as retinopathy, to prevent vision loss,”

According to her, all persons with diabetes are at risk of developing DR, however, those with poor blood glucose and blood pressure management and hyperlipidaemia are most at risk.

Visser, Past President, Vitreoretinal Society of South Africa, emphasised that early detection would lead to timely treatment of DR, which could prevent 95 per cent of vision impairment and blindness.

Also, Dr Asiwome Seneadza, Chairman, Africa Retina Society, said that the theme was timely and critical as efforts are made to navigate the complexities and challenges in delivering advanced retinal care across the continent.

Seneadza said, “That’s why we are advocating for improved diabetes care and regular retinal screening made available and accessible for every individual living with diabetes,” he said.

Similarly, Prof. Bassey Fiebai, Chairman, Vitreo Retinal Society of Nigeria, said the meeting was critical to proffering solutions to the challenge of offering standard retina care, improving outcomes and reducing visual loss from retina related disorders among low to medium income countries.

Fiebai said that the government plays a critical role in providing funding, training of personnel, provision of equipment to improve screening, detection and treatment of retinopathy disease.

The professor noted that retina specialists are few in Nigeria, placing the figure at about 100, stressing that it was inadequate to cater to the teeming population who require eye care.

“Right now in the country, we have just a little over 100 retina specialists. And we know that the population of Nigeria is about 230 million.

“So we’re looking at a situation in which one retina specialist is supposed to cater for 2.3 million people. How does anyone cope?” she queried.

NAN reports that the Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the Africa Retina Society which began on June 26 to June 28, had participants from various African countries brainstorm on enhancing retinal care.

(NAN)

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Cholera outbreak: Tinubu sets up presidential committee to oversee emergency operation centre

President Bola Tinubu has directed the setting up of a presidential committee to oversee the Cholera Emergency Operation Centre, operated by the National Centre For Disease Control.

The Minister of Health, Ali Pate, made this known on Tuesday after the Federal Executive Council meeting chaired by President Tinubu at the State House, Abuja.

He added that the committee’s effort is in addition to state government support to ensure Nigeria makes progress in reducing open defecation.

“The Council then approved a cabinet committee comprising the federal ministries of Health, Finance,Water Resources, Environment, Youth, Aviation, Education because some of our children will be returning to school . In addition to this, the state government, we will co-opt, so that Nigeria makes progress in reducing open defecation because cholera is a developmental issue that requires a multi-sectoral approach.

“The President directed that a cabinet committee be set up to oversee what the emergency operation centre led by NCDC is doing and for the resources to be provided complemented by the state government,” he said.

Pate further disclosed: “At the moment about 31 states have recorded 1528 cases and 53 deaths in Nigeria. That is what we are working through the Emergency Operation Centre that was activated by NCDC on Monday.

“Now we have a cholera outbreak and we discussed extensively in the Council in addition to a new emergence of Yellow Fever specifically in Bayelsa State.

“On cholera we are in the middle of the 7th pandemic globally which is decades in the making. In 2022, the world had almost 500,000 cases of cholera so it is not only peculiar to Nigeria. In 2023 almost 700,000 cases of cholera were reported by the World Health Organization.

“This year more than 200,000 cases have occurred in five regions of the World.”

He emphasised that a multi sectoral approach is required to tackle the outbreak .

“Resources were deployed to 21 states to help them respond to cholera. We are improving awareness of population, handwashing, hygiene sanitation, in addition to treatment with drugs, and intravenous fluids,” he added.

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Health

NCDC reports 1,598 cases of cholera across the country

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, NCDC, has reported 1,598 suspected cases of cholera across 107 local government areas.

The cholera outbreak is characterised by a case fatality rate of 3.5 per cent, significantly higher than the national expected average of one per cent, underscoring the severity of the situation.

The Director-General of NCDC, Dr Jide Idris, disclosed this on Monday in Abuja while providing an update on the cholera epidemiological situation in Nigeria and ongoing prevention and response efforts at the national and sub-national levels.

Cholera is a severe diarrheal illness caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The disease remains a significant health challenge, especially in regions with inadequate sanitation and clean water access.

Understanding the transmission mechanism of cholera is crucial to curbing its spread and implementing effective prevention measures.

Idris said: “Government is deeply concerned about the rapid spread and higher-than-expected mortality rate, indicating a more lethal outbreak.”

He emphasised that the fatalities represented significant personal losses, including those of family members, spouses, parents and healthcare workers.

“This situation can be compounded as the rainy season intensifies,” he added.

He disclosed that Lagos State accounted for the highest number of deaths with 29, followed by Rivers with eight, Abia and Delta with four each, Katsina with three, Bayelsa with two and Kano, Nasarawa and Cross River with one each.

He added: “This alarming trend highlights the urgent need for coordinated response to prevent further escalation of the crisis. Sixteen states accounted for 90 per cent of the confirmed cases, with Lagos being the epicentre of the outbreak. Lagos State, having the highest number of cases, has received significant focus, with ongoing support and resources directed to manage the outbreak effectively.”

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