As we celebrate the International Women’s Day on 8 March 2013, it is important to remember not only the role that women play in our society but also the suffering that they face more specifically in Africa from the beginning of life until death.
As mothers, wives and grandmothers, women in Africa traditionally embrace the provision of care to the aged, children and the sick, and especially the chronically ill at the family and extended family level.
When one looks at the force of community volunteers supporting palliative and other care in the community, women are at the forefront and are the majority in this army of carers.
Most of the burden of custodians of care and culture in Africa rests with women, despite the fact that they are denied many rights within society and their access to resources is curtailed.
The palliative care movement in Africa is largely a movement of brave women who, despite their limited resources, do their best to tend to their family’s needs, engage in community care programmes and centres, and serve at hospitals, hospices and national palliative care associations.
Tragically, African women account for 50 percent of all HIV infections and are impacted by the top two cancers on the continent, namely cervical and breast cancer. This is in a continent where access to cancer care and, to an extent, HIV care is still rudimentary in many communities.
The lifetime risk of a woman dying of cancer in Africa is double that of a developed country. Majority of cancers in Africa are diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease due to lack of screening and early detection services, as well as limited awareness of early signs and symptoms of cancer among the public and health care providers. Stigma associated with a diagnosis of cancer also plays a role in late stage presentation in most parts of Africa.
Due to the challenges outlined above, 80% of cancers are incurable by the time of detection and diagnosis, resulting in untold suffering for women across the continent.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day at our various community engagements, we ought to think of ways we can lighten the burden of suffering that women face as they care for their loved ones and themselves when afflicted or affected by life-limiting illnesses and old age.
Unless we work towards this, celebrating the women’s day in Africa will remain a meaningless effort. We need to ensure that health care systems are set up to prevent, detect early, treat and provide palliative care to women at their moment of need. We join the ranks of advocates taking strides forward in this effort.
For more articles about palliative care in Africa, please visit the Africa edition of ehospice.