Are We Putting Women’s Health Issues on the Sidelines?

International Aug 03, 2021

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Since the pandemic first unceremoniously wreaked havoc, Covid-19 has affected men and women alike. Though extensive research has been carried out about the implications of Covid-19 on various facets of our life, one area remains relatively understudied- women’s menstrual and reproductive health.

Women from around the world have shared how the coronavirus has disrupted their menstrual cycles. In conversation with The Quint, one individual shared how she tested positive when on her period and continued to bleed for over 60 days. The explanation given to her was that the stress put on her body due to the virus could’ve potentially led to a hormone imbalance. The important thing to note here is that she along with many other women were met with ‘possible explanations’ and speculations from their doctors when consulting about changes in their cycles during the pandemic.

While everyone had different experiences, frustration towards the lack of answers remained common among most women. Are these changes a result of the virus? It could be, but we cannot tell for sure since there isn’t enough research on the matter.

One of the only studies to look into the impact of being infected by Covid-19 on menstruation, sex hormones and the ovarian reserves of women, was conducted in Wuhan, China, and published in September 2020. It examined the data of  177 female patients and found that 25% of them displayed menstrual volume changes, while 19% had a prolonged cycle. The study also stated that one-fifth of infected women experience menstrual abnormalities.

The 6th annual Menstrual Hygiene Survey by Everteen (a feminine hygiene brand) aimed to gauge the impact of Covid-19 and the lockdown on people’s menstrual cycles. Around 5000 women between 18 to 35 years of age from metropolises participated. The survey revealed that over 41% of women faced irregular gaps in their cycle despite only 13.7% of them having contracted Covid-19. Around 20% of the respondents said that they missed at least one period during the pandemic, 29.2% claimed to have more painful periods, and 28.8% of them noticed an unusual amount of clots in their menstrual blood.

Speaking on this survey, Chirag Pan, CEO of PAN Healthcare, said that the government has a responsibility to make menstrual hygiene products more accessible since another study found that almost one in four women faced difficulty getting hold of them during the lockdown.

Dr Shehla Jamal, who is leading a survey on behalf of the Society of Menstrual Disorders and Hygiene Management (an independent body of gynaecologists), believes that it is important to find an explanation by studying available resources.

Dr Suchitra Dalvie asserted that modern medicine and patriarchy see women as a vehicle towards the next generation and nothing more. Citing a situation from the Zika virus epidemic, she pointed out how only after children were born with deformities, everyone was interested in how the virus affected pregnant women. She also added that medicine has set the human male body as the default and has failed to acknowledge the physiological differences that women have.

So the question remains, why do we ignore and sideline women’s health issues? And will more research on menstruation help shift society’s perception of it?

This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm

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