The gender gap in health care is significantly high in the UAE where women are less likely to seek medical advice than men due to social conservatism and stigma attached to some health issues, according to Muna Tahlak, Chief of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department, Al Wasl Hospital.
Dr. Tahlak’s comments came during a seminar titled ‘Women and Health in the UAE: Cancer and Reproductive Health’ organized by Dubai School of Government (DSG) on 28 November as part of the Gender and Public Policy Programme’s seminar series.
Dr. Tahlak assessed the policies of the UAE government that shape attitudes and behaviours towards cervical cancer prevention. She also deliberated on how current policies in the country, such as disclosure of test results, impact the choices that women make regarding screening and check-ups. She emphasised the importance of effective public policy which is “supportive of women’s choices and encourages them to seek proper healthcare.”
Speaking on natal and pregnancy concerns, Dr. Tahlak highlighted the need for regular pre-conception check-ups and called upon women to understand the importance of annual gynaecological tests.
Dr. Tahlak said: “Every woman must visit her gynaecologist as soon as she is considering a child and ideally around three to six months before attempting to conceive. Women planning a baby must be screened for diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure and blood sugar. It is essential for all women to take the pap smear test every year to check for cervical cancer. If screened regularly, pre-cancer cells can be detected and prevent cancer from developing. In addition, women need to be made aware that they can now be vaccinated against cervical cancer.”
Dr. May Al Dabbagh, Director of the Gender and Public Policy Programme and moderator of the panel, stressed on the importance of government involvement in closing the gender gap in healthcare. Al Dabbagh said: “It is imperative to tackle the barriers that prevent women from accessing healthcare services. Globalization poses new challenges for effective healthcare provision in the UAE and government support of research-based policy-making is crucial for addressing the gender gap in healthcare.
The Dubai School of Government was established in cooperation with the Harvard Kennedy School to promote good governance through enhancing the region’s capacity for effective public policy. It is committed to the creation of knowledge, the dissemination of best practice and the training of policy makers in the Arab world.