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100,000 J'can women, girls suffer pelvic disease

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Obsrever staff reporter mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, March 03, 2014    

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AS the country observes March as Endometriosis Month, co-founder of the Better Awareness and Support for Endometriosis (BASE) Foundation, Shauna Fuller-Clarke, is urging employees and school administrators to become more sensitive to and supportive of the approximately 100,000 women and students grappling with the disease locally.

According to Fuller-Clarke, who has been diagnosed with stage four endometriosis — a condition that occurs when cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other parts of the body causing a string of symptoms including intermittent and/or chronic pelvic pain, bowel or urinary disorders, irregular bleeding, painful menstruation, rectal pain, painful intercourse and infertility — loss of productivity is perhaps the biggest challenge those affected face.

"Depending on how severe the disease is, if you don't get treatment, it can result in loss of productivity so you can't attend work or school," she said. "I know of a university student who had missed her final exams because of the pain she was feeling and when she told the school they thought she was faking the pain and she had to resit the course."

"I also know of another girl who has gone through five jobs because of the number of sick days that she has taken," Fuller-Clarke added.

In addition to the loss of productivity, the endometriosis advocate said the disease also affects relationships, in some case resulting in divorce.

"I know of women who have got divorced because their partners are unable to deal with the disease and how it affects their sex life," she added.

Aside from the physical symptoms, endometriosis can lead to depression in some women because of the impacts on their sex lives and the stigma that is attached to women who are unable to have children.

"Some of the cases I have come across, it's amazing that we haven't talked about (endometriosis) and it is so prevalent. Every other woman I talk to has it or know of someone who does have it," she said.

The lack of awareness in society is therefore something that she would like to change.

"One of the things that we hate is when people say that painful cramps are normal. It is not; the pain is crippling," she said.

Fuller-Clarke was speaking to the Jamaica Observer following yesterday's church service at Waltham Park New Testament Church in Kingston as a part of the activities for the month's celebration.

The main activity, she noted, will be the country's participation in the first ever staging of the Million Woman March for Endometriosis, on March 13, in which over 50 countries are involved. The event is to bring awareness to the disease which affects 176 million worldwide.

Jamaica's leg of the march will start at 11:00 am at Devon House and culminate at Emancipation Park via Trafalgar Road and Knutsford Boulevard with a rally where invited guests will speak on the importance of women's health with a focus on chronic pelvic diseases.

Participants are being asked to wear yellow on the day. People can register at www.basejamaica.com.

In the meantime, Health Minister Fenton Ferguson yesterday lauded the efforts of BASE Foundation in bringing awareness to the matter and pledged the ministry's support.

"Endometriosis is often an unrecognised disease. Many of our women suffer tremendous pain without proper diagnosis and we have to use these opportunities to get the word out and ensure that people understand it is indeed a serious disease that affects many of our young girls," he said. "Many times it remains undiagnosed simply because persons are not aware and do not have enough information to understand that they can seek and receive help in terms of receiving successful treatment," he said.

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