Make no mistake about it, behind this choice hide reasons that have nothing to do with self-esteem or traditional medicine, let alone any contempt for modern medicine. In this sense, analyzing this phenomenon by emphasizing the risks to which these women are predisposed is crucial.
Going to the gynecologist, although very important, is an uneasy health task to many women in Haiti. While some of them think it is feasible and necessary, others are much more reluctant. This is the case of Widlove, a 23-year-old of Port-au-Prince resident, who prefers not to reveal her last name. Student in administration in one of the most prestigious universities in the region of Port- au-Prince, the young girl who is five feet tall in meters has a stance on the subject. The very idea of going to a gynecologist is intrusive. “I don’t think I could ever do it. It’s strange”, says Widlove prior to taking a look around her.
This Saturday morning, Widlove preferred to meet us in a remote corner of her schoolyard. Sitting on a rocky bench, she watched the movements of everyone nearby. Among her female friends at school, she had been the one person who had yet to consult a gynecologist. “I don’t know when or even why would I? The idea of lying on a bed and letting a stranger touch me does not appeal to me at all” she adds.
Some women firmly believe that once they arrive at a gynecologist, their privacy will automatically be put aside. According to them, the uncomfortable position during certain exams and the intimacy of the certain subjects that they would discuss with the physician, make the visit stressful. Roselène, 26-year-old, is a full-time teacher at a school in Delmas. Despite her need to talk to a doctor because of extreme pain and cramps she experiences when menstruating, she has never been to see a gynecologist. The young woman explains that she has always felt apprehensive of the idea to visit a gynecologist.
“What I feel every time I want to go see a gynecologist is stronger than me.” says Roselène. “I feel that I am at the bottom of the sea with a mooring block at my feet”.
Tea as a preventive measure yet is the pitfall
Dazma, who is in her twenties, also takes a dim view of going to a professional and specialized doctor. If she plans to do so in the distant future (may be the day she will be expecting her first child), she is currently focusing on ways that, theoretically, could help her take care of her sexual organs. “I prefer to drink tea and clean myself with the same herbal tea rather than going to a gynecologist and then taking pills,” says Dazma, convinced that the pills prescribed by gynecologists could be carcinogenic.
Other women in Haiti do feel the same way that Dazma feels. Roselène is one of those women, and who uses traditional medicine as a means of preventing certain infections. “During my periods, my mother used to boil all sorts of leaves for me” confides Roselène. Who admits that these regiments never give her any relief from her dysmenorrhea. “My mother never went to a gynecologist. My grandmother had a strong faith in traditional medicine” says the full-time teacher.
For millennia, sick people around the world have been treated with herbal medicines. According to the SciDev.Net website, in Africa and Asia, 80% of the population continues to use traditional rather than modern medicines for primary health care. However, the abuse or misuse of these drugs could prove fatal to the consumer. According to gynecologist Rolex Joseph, no studies have been done on most of the leaves used by Haitians. “It’s simply a habit that is passed down from generation to generation,” explains the gynecologist, who specifies that these consumers can be exposed to later complications.
We asked about the effectiveness of these remedies in women, the specialist answered in these terms. “I can’t tell you if these leaves can treat an infection. Natural medicine laboratories should look into the subject in order to better understand these remedies.”
Explainable but misunderstanding fears
The fear of going to a gynecologist is not inevitable. Just as a child may be afraid to go to bed alone at night, an adult may also be apprehensive about going to a gynecologist. On the contrary, if a woman is aware that they have these problems with fears, she will be better able to address them instead of ignoring them. According to psychologist Cassandra Lafalaise, the fear of going to a gynecologist can be linked to a miseducation on the subject. It is such with all sorts of myths, which suggest that a virgin woman can lose her virginity at the time of a vaginal examination, reveals the specialist, and add that if a woman visiting the doctor is a virgin, she should clearly mention that to the doctor in the event of performing an examination. Asking a loved one to be a companion to the doctor is advisable, in all cases of discomfort to have a visit, explains Lafalaise.
A routine consultation with a gynecologist is of great importance. “Normally, a young girl
should see a gynecologist as soon as she hits puberty. Generally, it is only a routine visit during which the patient can talk about the changes that are taking place in her body“, explains Dr. Rolex who further specifies that a girl must go to the gynecologist at least once a year.
If some people are afraid to take the first step out of shyness, others keep an ungratified memory of it. Because in Haiti, some health professionals, gynecologists in this case, do not respect the code of ethics of their profession and often act dishonestly. Esther, in her twenties, is one of those women who keeps an embittered memory of one of her visits to a gynecologist. “I used to follow a gynecologist who is a friend of my family, after a while I wanted to try with another specialist. The day of my first visit, he made inappropriate comments about my femininity. It really bothered me. I spoke to my boyfriend about it and since then I have never set foot in his clinic again” says the young Esther with disappointment.
On another occasion, a young marketing professional named Rose. She also had a bad experience with a gynecologist. “He started making inappropriate comments about the size of my vagina,” the 27-year-old tells us. “I was disturbed, so much so that I expressed my anger with hurtful words before leaving her clinic” she confides to us. Indeed, shyness, fear, distrust, the obstacles are enormous for these girls who have no idea what their experience will be if they consult a gynecologist. Some of them will surely manage to overcome such fears, but others, without ethical professionals and a proper education of the processes, those fears may never disappear. “If a woman in Haiti feels more confident with seeing a woman doctor when visiting a gynecologist, is it encouraged to request one during or prior to a visit” says Lafalaise.
Translated by Moise Lena Jean Louis
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