By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK A recent draft health assessment of women’s health in three regions where the HIV prevalence rate is high has identified six diseases including HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and cancers as priority health issues affecting women. The Community Assessment of Women’s Health care in Namibia, carried out in Khomas, Caprivi and Kavango was done on women who are HIV-positive and negative, untested women, community leaders and service providers during which it found that HIV, STIs various cancers, high blood pressure and tuberculosis are the most pressing of health issues that the women face. Others that were identified include malaria, diabetes, mental health issues and also other issues that affect their health such as alcoholism, violence against women, poverty, poor diets, unemployment and risky cultural practices such as polygamy. Contributing to these are distances to health facilities, service and treatment fees, stigma and discrimination, lack of correct information about women’s health, attitudes of health care staff who are often rude and unfriendly, insensitive language and communication barriers, breaches of confidentiality and lack of understanding of the context in which women live their lives. It was noted that there were breaches of confidentiality throughout the health system, which constitute a major barrier to accessing HIV treatment and care, which may occur due to the indiscretion of service providers and labeling in some health facilities. Participants to the workshops said a lack of information about STIs, combined with accompanying stigma, could contribute to unwillingness among women to seek treatment. “Women often find it difficult to talk about STIs and are unlikely to bring up sexual health concerns. Reports from the workshops and site visits revealed that men are even less likely to seek treatment for sexual diseases, which perpetuates the problems because both partners need to be treated to maintain sexual health,” the assessment said. As for cancer, the concern was that the disease is not found in its early and treatable stages because of lack of preventative check-ups. High blood pressure was associated with stress, depression, worry particularly due to HIV infection, while TB, the most common and dangerous of infectious diseases, is prevalent among vulnerable populations. While different services exist for such health problems, people favoured going to hospitals for treatment services as opposed to clinics due to their inadequacy in terms of limited and poor quality staff, which they linked to stigma, discrimination, confidentiality problems and resource shortages. These findings were shared at a round table discussion with parliamentarians and service providers at a women’s health workshop on Friday. Speaking at the discussion, Deputy Home Affairs Minister, Teopolina Mushelenga, said gender equalities and disparities, social economic conditions such as poverty, social exclusion, unemployment and poor housing are some of the problems facing women’s rights to good health. “This is further exacerbated by harmful cultural practices, domestic violence, prostitution, early marriages, rape and food insecurity. “Considering the role that women play in the society as breadwinners, doing domestic chores and taking responsibility for the care of their children, it becomes relevant that their health situation be addressed,” said Mushelenga. The assessment was aimed at evaluating the status of health care services including the availability and accessibility of HIV/AIDS health care services for women in the three regions, to raise awareness of women’s health issues and rights, build capacity among MPs for women’s health teams and also to use the information to develop and design a community-wide campaign and action plan that will address the shortcomings in women’s access to health care services. It was noted that private clinics, community service organisations, churches and traditional healers provide a range of care and support services beyond what is accessible through the government health system. These include home-based care, orphans and vulnerable children support, voluntary counselling and testing and family planning. What the participants described as good service includes high quality and ethical staff in public health facilities who do not stigmatize and discriminate against women and girls seeking HIV and family panning services, and correct and consistent information on major women’s health issues especially HIV and AIDS, and reproductive and sexual health issues. They also want adequate facilities providing women’s health services within communities and improvement in health facilities such as clean health facilities, comfortable waiting areas, more toilets, stretchers, ambulances, clean water and good food. Amongst the draft recommendations are that there should be an awareness campaign particularly on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health, an HIV/AIDS sensitization campaign that includes people living with the disease, and also to strengthen dialogue between Mps and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare on gender issues, shelter, support and legal services for abused women and children.