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Mar 10, 2016

Healthy Living: Gender Equity in Health

International Women’s Day was celebrated on March eighth.  The achievements and the important role that women play in our society are underscored throughout the entire month of March.  Gender equity in health is a significant part of the conversation. As women, we do have biological predispositions and specific gender-related health issues, and tonight in Healthy Living we look at a few of the leading threats to women’s health.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
Cultural practices, societal norms and most importantly our biological make-up allows for a few key differences in health needs between men and women. Internist Doctor Fernando Cuellar highlighted a few more relevant for Belizean women.


Dr. Fernando Cuellar, Internist

“I would like first to highlight the fact that women definitely have also the other entities, the other illnesses affecting them as much as males or even more, unfortunately.”


Which means that while naturally the first thought we have when talking about women’s health is to think about reproductive health; but in reality the leading threats to women’s health are NCD’s  – like Heart Disease, Diabetes, Hypetension – these and other NCD’s kill millions women worldwide annually. Doctor Cuellar explains one reason why and what we can do about it.

Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“I would definitely want to let us not lose that focus; that heart disease and kidney disease are as prevalent in women or as frequent in women as in men. Women are more predisposed to obesity; we can see that. We look around and we see for example women who are fatter or fluffier, by and large than men. That has a lot to do with hormones, the estrogen levels—hormonal, emotional factors—that play a role in obesity. It’s a risk factor for other conditions such as diabetes, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. You find that mother’s on a whole tend to make sure that everybody is eating healthier and they then to leave themselves to the back. But it all goes back to healthy eating and exercise.”


Cancer continues to threaten the health of many women. Specifically in Belize, the preventable and treatable cancers like breast and cervical cancer cripple the health of our women too frequently. While public education has improved, women must remain vigilant with screening.

Fernando Cuellar

Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“The gender specific ones and I’ll start first with the breast…of course breast cancer is a huge topic; talked about a lot and acted upon a lot in Belize—likely so. I do see the very occasional males with breast cancer, but by and large more women. Thankfully now, there is more awareness being created. Women tend to be more proactive to get checked and do their self examinations and get their mammograms done and access that type of care. There is still have a long way to go. One, try to know family history because that makes a huge difference; second, try to do your own examinations as often as you can and try to do at least a yearly check with your caregiver—both private and public do a good job in doing this. There are some guidelines that we generally use like for example, women age of forty and about would tend to start having their mammograms done. Sometimes you can do it earlier based on the family history of course. The other thing of course is cervical cancer which again is very prevalent and again I think we are seeing a concerted effort from the public and private—form the cancer people and the Ministry of Health. And of course the most recent initiative, which I very much applaud and encourage and hope it comes off the ground a whole lot, is the application of the HPV vaccine. I hope everybody can buy into it and support it. It’s a vaccine that’s given to younger women as early as perhaps in standard four, standard five, standard six so as to prevent them from catching the virus that can lead to cancer of the cervix. And I think that it would be seeds that would be properly sewed. Once properly sewed; it will be a good initiative so that ten years, fifteen years, twenty years down the road we don’t see as much cervical cancer as before. Once there is start of sexual activity, you should have your yearly papsmear done. And that’s a really simple procedure; it is not painful, it’s comfortable enough and it goes a long way.”


Another gender specific health concern is that of family spacing. While not as widely discussed, it can severely impact the health of our mothers.

Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“We see that women’s health is affected by number of children they have; the more children they have, they tend to be les healthier…especially if they have a child every year. So it is encouraged that they space it out, space more. It’s curious it’s not a topic we talk about much. Other countries for example it is not only family spacing, but limitations. Yo can’t have more than two children or that kind of thing. But we should try to emphasize on it…that we should have Planned Parenthood so to speak.”


Cuellar’s final piece of advice is to men.

Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“It’s not something medical or physical, but I know this is women’s month and I’ve been hearing the different types of things—gender-based violence and that kind of thing which I think is very important. I will encourage us males to be more respectful of women; to not sexual harass them as sometimes do exist. Hopefully the values come back that we don’t see these things. I have a daughter for example that I wouldn’t want these things to be happening. I would also try to encourage women to empower themselves. The scariest thing is an empowered women—intelligent—and I think that is also an avenue that we need to not just tell the males not to do it, but tell the young ladies to call out their names; to be more assertive, more proactive.”

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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