Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Raising health awareness

Mai Samih reports on efforts to promote the rights of women and better health for all

Al-Ahram Weekly

Equality between men and women starts with awareness, which is why many NGOs try to raise men’s awareness about the rights of women, and raise women’s awareness of their right to be healthy by teaching them ways to have a healthy lifestyle.

Earlier this month, members of the Misr Foundation for Health and Sustainable Development (MFHSD) “You are More Important” campaign in collaboration with the Global Youth Ambassadors Team (GYAT) celebrated Egyptian Women’s Day in a unique way by forming a human chain to promote equality between men and women in the Pharaonic Village on Al-Bahr Al-Azam Street in Cairo.

Participants carried slogans against negative attitudes towards women and others and called for their rights and freedoms during the event. It was followed by a seminar that featured successful females in many fields to help boost the self-confidence and determination of girls.

The event included booths with information to help raise the awareness of girls and women about breast cancer and ways to lead a healthy lifestyle. A wall magazine informed them about Egyptian Women’s Day. There were other activities, including a henna and mandela painting workshop, an accessories booth, a photography booth where girls could dress up in women’s clothing from different periods, and games like snakes and ladders.

A film was shown by the NGOs to mark a year of collaboration between them. Girls Go Wheels, a group that teaches girls how to drive motorcycles, and the Aber website, which boosts the habit of reading and cultural awareness in general, also participated. On 16 March, a human chain was organised by NGOs at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University with similar aims in mind.

“March is the month of women. The 8th is International Women’s Day, the 16th is Egyptian Women’s Day and the 21st is Mother’s Day,” said Amr Hassan, a professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Cairo University and a founding Member of the MFHSD.

“We wanted to raise women’s awareness in different ways, which is why we have set up awareness booths to raise awareness through interactive games and other means. Medical matters can be a heavy topic for many people, and they may need to be simplified so people can understand them.”

 “This year, we chose the slogan of equality between men and women because gender equality is also the theme of International Women’s Day.” Heart disease is the number-one killer of Egyptian women because some of them lead unhealthy lives, including by eating fatty foods, risking obesity, and not taking enough exercise, he said.

These things can cause high blood pressure and high cholesterol and blood-sugar levels, which all lead to heart disease. Breast cancer is killer number two among women in Egypt. One risk factor for this, smoking, used to be confined to male adults, but now some women smoke too, raising their risk of illness.

“It is very important that parents teach their children how to eat healthily and not to start teaching them after they become ill with heart disease or diabetes due to the lack of a healthy lifestyle,” Hassan said.

“This is why at the MFHSD we have designed colouring books for children to raise their awareness about the dangers of smoking, like a book entitled Ali Yatahada Al-Tadkheen (Ali Challenges Smoking).”

The story is about a boy who travels in a time machine 40 years into the future and sees how one of his friends who smokes suffers from heart disease, and another one who was an athlete loses the competitions he used to win after taking up smoking. When he comes back to his own time, he starts a campaign against smoking.

There have also been some alarming statistics about the deteriorating health of children in Egypt, according to Hassan. In Dakahleya, the percentage of children with weak or shrinking bones is 64 per cent. Anaemia among children reached 30 per cent in 2014. This means that the new generation is weaker than the one before it. “This is why we focus on children, in order to protect them from such diseases,” Hassan said.

Hala Al-Essawi, a diabetes consultant at the Qasr Al-Aini Hospital in Cairo agrees. “It is very important to raise women’s awareness about diabetes, especially type two, when the body does not produce enough insulin to function properly and glucose stays in the blood and isn’t used as a fuel for energy,” she said. In the past, only those above the age of 35 were type two diabetes patients, but now even teenagers are developing the disease due to higher rates of obesity.

According to Al-Essawi, the reason for this is that “children today sometimes do not play like they did in the past, and working mothers buy food from restaurants instead of cooking healthy food at home.” There are eight million diabetes patients in Egypt, a number that is expected to double by 2030, she said.

“In events like this one we aim at raising the awareness of women and young people about health issues. One event we organised was an anti-anaemia campaign for young people, especially young women who are more liable to anaemia as every month they lose blood due to their periods,” said Maha Marouf Emara, a professor of gynecology and obstetrics and a member of the National Council for Women’s Health and Population department.

“The percentage of anaemia among young people can now be as high as 40 per cent. Anaemia causes tiredness and explains short attention spans at school. Today, one out of every three young people suffers from anaemia,” she said.

“My sister, Naglaa Fathi, is a doctor and director of the National Women’s Health Programme at the GYAT, which helps girls by raising their awareness about health issues as well as empowering and educating them. I am very proud of her, and I decided to join her. It is a pleasure to help other girls. Through workshops and fairs we also raise money to help female dropouts go back to school,” said Eman Fathi, a member of the GYAT and a participant at the event.

Basma Al-Gabri is the founder of the Girls Go Wheels group. “We started the group to help empower women and girls, especially in the streets where the rate of sexual harassment has increased to an alarming degree. We teach them how to take care of themselves by learning how to drive motorcycles and cars. We want to get rid of taboos like the idea that girls can’t ride motorcycles,” she said.

Talking about health-promotion activities, Al-Essawi says, “If a child eats healthily and exercises she is not likely to become a diabetes patient. If a mother exercises for at least 30 minutes, even if she just climbs the stairs a couple of times or does the housework, and if she drinks enough water throughout the day, she will also be well on the way towards leading a healthy lifestyle.”

Al-Essawi will be participating in a campaign at the Gezira Club in Zamalek called Sokarak Ey? (What’s your blood sugar level?). The campaign aims at the early detection of diabetes and raising people’s awareness about prevention.

As Emara pointed out, “Prevention is better than cure. I prevent diseases like anaemia by eating the right food. People should eat food like salads without sauce or fries. They should focus on eating foods like spinach, molasses, lettuce, broccoli, lentils (especially the brown type) and artichokes, which are rich in iron. They should also take vitamins B12, C and E. Mothers should take care of the nutrition of their family and raise the awareness of their children about health concerns.”

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