Universal access to health services has been touted as one of the contributing factors that led to the population explosion in some parts of Africa. People in regions that had access to the road and electricity network could comfortably visit a dispensary or a maternity ward whenever the need arose.
However, the universality of this access is not uniform. Populations living in marginalized areas of rural Africa face a series of challenges that limit their ability to access basic services such as education, health care, and government services. It could be worse. Widows living in these regions, not only have to contend with being regarded as outcasts, but they also have to fight prejudice and discrimination whenever they attempt to access health services. Woe unto a widow if she should ever fall pregnant.
Widows and women in general need access to reliable health services because of the harsh living conditions they have to endure in order to survive. Not only are they overworked and underpaid, but a poor diet predisposes them to many ailments that otherwise they would have fought off. Sexual violence and other forms of Gender Based violence are also prevalent in these marginal communities.
So, widows are always at risk of contracting the HIV virus, psychological trauma, and incurring bodily harm. In addition, they may face sexual violence from the communities they live within. In other cases, widows prefer over-the-counter medication after self-diagnosing and this may lead to health challenges in the future.
Health services also involve psychological assistance for widows suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a common ailment affecting widows who have been harassed, beaten, and had their property taken away from them. The trauma of these atrocities lives with them afterward and it will take the intervention of a professional counselor to make them recover. Given the scarcity of these professionals, widows may not know what they are suffering from and the PTSD condition may make them think they are “crazy.”
The focus on personal health problems that many widows face in developing nations could be shifted to policymakers. As such, I am going to look at the role of the government in addressing cases such as cervical cancer which is the second most common cancer amongst women under the age of 35 in the world, and the most prevalent cancer in developing countries.
Evidence shows that effective HPV screening programs can promote the early detection of cervical cancers.
The WHO suggests that countries should implement the control of cervical cancer by establishing a national cancer control program, and integrating cervical cancer into primary sexual and reproductive health services.
This obviously is a huge undertaking and the beneficiaries of these services may be women in urban centers. It is therefore important for advocacy groups to keep the government informed about the plight of this forgotten demographic.
Basic interventions at this juncture may include the following;
- Establishing mobile clinics.
- Free maternal services.
- Subsidized treatment programs at government hospitals.
- Health and hygiene training for widows by healthcare professionals.
- Preventive interventions such as mosquito nets, emergency contraception, and vaccination.
- Economic empowerment of widows to help them acquire good nutrition, work in less strenuous circumstances and be able to travel and access health services whenever necessary.
Health challenges for widows are numerous and daunting. But I am convinced that with determination and focus, organizations working with local leaders can find ways to bridge the gap in access to health services for widows.