Preventative women’s health is central to a healthy community

By Nomafrench Mbombo, MEC, Health in the Western Cape:

Today, the Western Government Department of Health launches it Women’s Health Awareness campaign. This campaign will emphasize the importance of Women’s Health and particularly on the services available at health facilities across the province.

Good women’s health reflects on the quality of, and access to, maternal, sexual and reproductive healthcare. The Western Cape Government’s three month long Women’s Health campaign (Aug to October), aims to encourage and empower women to look after their health and provides information on the holistic and preventative approach adopted by the provincial government.

“We are highlighting the importance of prevention and promotion wellness in order to build healthy, resilient, wellness conscious individuals, and families throughout the Western Cape.  It is important that we address women’s health throughout lifecycle: from adolescents and teenagers to menopausal. Therefore it’s imperative that we focus beyond sexual and reproductive health but mental health, chronic conditions (Non-communicable diseases), TB, HIV/AIDS (Communicable diseases) as well. Women are encouraged to visit our primary healthcare facilities where preventative services can be accessed free of charge” says Min. Nomafrench Mbombo, MEC for Health in Western Cape.

Women are urged to take full advantage of the free access to a range of health services available at any public health clinic in the province, and also our health partners. Health practitioners at these clinics provide free advice on various female health matters, including contraceptive choices, unwanted pregnancies, family planning assistance and early booking, cervical cancer and breast cancer screening, antenatal care and chronic disease management.

Women’s health is central in ensuring a resilient and healthy community. Reproductive health is a major contributor to women morbidities and mortalities; this is why we focus on sexual and reproductive health across the lifecycle.

The following services are available to women at our health facilities:

o          Pregnancy Testing

Women and girls whose menstrual periods are one or more weeks late are advised to have a pregnancy test. The journey of a safe pregnancy and preparing for motherhood begins now.

o          Antenatal (Pre-Birth) Health Services

Pregnant girls and women are registered for support and follow up, for risk profiling and, if needed, referred to maternity services in hospitals or Midwife Obstetric Units (MOUs) in urban areas for close monitoring. It’s advisable for expectant mothers to book their first visit to the clinic as soon as they confirm their pregnancy. The most risky time is before 20 weeks (five months pregnant).

o          Birth/Labour Services

Mothers can deliver at Midwife Obstetric Units (MOUs) or maternity service units in district hospitals. We do not encourage home deliveries due to the risks involved and the immunization of the baby that needs to start immediately. Mothers who are HIV positive can join the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission service, of which the Western Cape is the top performer in the country.

o          Post-Natal (After Birth) Health Care

Post-natal services are available after the mother and her newborn have been discharged from the MOU or Hospital.

o          Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical and breast cancer are the two most common forms of cancer found amongst South African women and all women are at risk of developing these cancers. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer and the immunization to all grade 4 girls will assist us in future to prevent cervical cancer. For now all women should have a pap smear at least every 10 years starting at age 30 years. This means at around 30, 40 and 50 years of age. The pap smear can pick up early signs of cancer that could be treated as a minor procedure,

o          Contraception (Family Planning)

The service offers counselling on and provision of a range of safe, effective and acceptable contraceptive methods from which women, men and teenagers can freely choose to prevent unwanted pregnancy. This includes the Implanon, an implant that provides at least 3 year coverage and which requires no daily routine and is a safe an effective way of planning your family.

o          Menopause Care

Women who start menopause prematurely (before 45 years of age) or who are in menopause and are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, can have a gynaecological assessment and examination. Hormonal tests can be done to decide on treatment. Women can ask for counselling to decide on the best treatment option.

o          Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) Service

Women who do not want to go through with a pregnancy can choose to have the pregnancy terminated. This choice needs to be done early as early termination is not invasive. Free termination of pregnancy services are available at some state clinics.

o          Other related counselling and screening services which are available to women include:

  • referrals for mammograms,
  • information on self-examination for breast cancer
  • general information regarding nutrition and wellness
  • sexual abuse/rape counselling

All pregnant women are encouraged to register on our MomConnect platform, a national platform which distributes health messages and reminders via text messages to their cellphones.

The launch of a Women’s Health promotion in Cape Metropolitan area aimed at increasing services uptake of women. Preventative care is a priority for the Western Cape Department of Health that is why we are targeting our quadruple burden of disease focusing on women.

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