A University of Sydney's Master's student has embarked on a mission to study the impact of endometriosis on men's sexual lives. Not surprisingly, the university's decision to approve the research has sparked heated debate and outrage among not just the women of Australia, but women worldwide. Endometriosis is, after all, a severely painful medical condition that affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age, globally.
In endometriosis, the tissue found inside the uterus — the endometrium — grows outside the uterus and in other places such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the bladder, the bowel, and other internal organs. Its symptoms can include extremely painful periods and ovulation, cramps, excessive bleeding that can continue for weeks and months at a stretch, infertility and, of course, painful sex. Since the condition can develop as early as a girl's first period, and neither childbirth nor menopause are guaranteed to end the suffering, dealing with a condition like endometriosis can impact the patient's physical and mental well-being.
In 2010, the World Endometriosis Research Foundation estimated that 176 million (17.6 crore) women worldwide suffer from endometriosis.
Given all this, one would think that there was an indisputable case for greater need for more research that focusses on the sufferers — women — compared to men's need for sex. But the fact that men's sexual health and well-being are matters of greater import to the world should come as no surprise to anyone. Then why the sudden anger?
Perhaps it has to do with the severely debilitating nature of endometriosis, its widespread prevalence and the fact that modern science still hasn't found a permanent cure for it. In 2010, the World Endometriosis Research Foundation estimated that 176 million (17.6 crore) women worldwide suffer from endometriosis. According to a report from the 2011 World Congress of Endometriosis, on an average, there is a delay of 6.7 years between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis. Affected women lose almost 11 hours of work, weekly, due to reduced effectiveness.
The economic burden of endometriosis on a woman is estimated at $12,419.
The economic burden of endometriosis on a woman is estimated at $12,419, one third of which is attributed to healthcare costs and two-thirds to loss of productivity. That's a LOT of money women are spending each year to simply manage the condition, only to have research money being squandered on studying its impact on men.
In Australia itself, in 2016, the budget for endometriosis research was less than 5 percent of the funding allocated to asthma and diabetes research, even though the number of Australians suffering from the three medical conditions were comparable. No wonder Australian women are furious.
There is a delay of 6.7 years between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis of endometriosis.
Jane Keany, the student undertaking the study, defended it saying that encouraging couples to talk was necessary. An ABC news report quoted her as saying, "It's easy to misunderstand this as being a woman's problem, but I'm saying this is a couple's problem."
Naturally, women on Twitter had some acerbic quips to offer for this misguided "logic".
The situation is equally bad, if not worse, in India. The Endometriosis Society of India, published a study of 2,500 doctors in 2007 that pegged the number of women suffering from endometriosis at 26 million (2.6 crore). Which means it's been a decade since any significant research was undertaken to map the growth or prevalence of endometriosis in the country.
Up to 62 per cent government hospitals don't have a gynaecologist on their staff.
It doesn't end there. Despite it being such a common problem, awareness about endometriosis is pitifully poor, and misinformation and misdiagnosis is rampant. An analysis of the District Level Household and Facility Survey – 4 (DLHS – 4), undertaken by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and the Government of India showed that up to 62 per cent government hospitals don't have a gynaecologist on their staff. A 2009 joint report by All India Institute of Medical Sciences and University of California, states that 30 to 50 percent women with endometriosis are infertile.
Indian women, particularly unmarried women, prefer to suffer in silence rather than visit a gynaecologist for fear of judgement for being sexually active.
Cases being misdiagnosed, or left undiagnosed, is common in cultures like India's, where most women, particularly unmarried women, prefer to suffer in silence rather than visit a gynaecologist for fear of judgement for being sexually active, even when their problems are completely unrelated. Horrific accounts like this one, are by no means isolated incidences, they are an all-too-common reality. So much so, that former model and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi's reason for setting up the Endometriosis Foundation of America is her own terrible experience of going through her teens, 20s and half her 30s without being properly diagnosed, and the need for research and awareness about this condition.
As for men's lives being "equally affected" by the debilitating condition, perhaps they'd prefer to swap their inconvenience with the women doubled over in agony, because cramps and unstoppable bleeding just aren't appealing enough to throw research money behind, right?
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