Reproductive health is an issue that affects both men and women. While access to safe reproductive health services in South Africa is available, there are still many people who face challenges when it comes to exercising their rights and protecting their health. Teenage pregnancy and HIV infections remain very high in South Africa often because the subject of sexual intercourse is a taboo subject. This is why Bloom, a leading medical insurance broker in South Africa, together with Momentum Health4Me have created a conversation about reproductive health. Find out what you should be aware of in order to keep yourself safe and healthy.
What is reproductive health?
Reproductive health is defined as a state of physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system, its functions and processes. This applies to both men and women alike. While reproductive health obviously relates to the issue of conception and childbirth, the term is far broader as it also extends to matters concerning having a safe and satisfying sex life, a healthy reproductive system and access to family planning services.
Men’s reproductive health issues
1. Prostate cancer
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting men on a global scale. The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped gland located between the bladder and the penis that is responsible for producing seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Symptoms of the disease include blood in the semen or urine, decreased force of the urine stream or trouble urinating, and erectile dysfunction. Men are advised to have a regular prostate exam with their local GP or by a urologist.
2. Testicular cancer
Testicular cancer occurs in the testes, which is located in the scrotum beneath the penis. The testicles produce male sex hormones and sperm. This form of cancer affects males aged between 15-35 years and is highly treatable through surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Men are advised to seek medical attention should they discover a lump in either of their testicles.
3. Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is a sexual dysfunction where a man is unable to keep an erection long enough to engage in sexual intercourse. The causes are often either physical or psychological in nature. Physical causes include problems relating to issues like low testosterone levels, diabetes, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or taking certain prescription medication; while psychological causes may relate to issues like performance anxiety, marital problems or stress. Erectile dysfunction can be treated and is usually managed through medication, hormone therapy or by using mechanical aids (like a vacuum device). In some cases, therapy is advised.
4. Male infertility
Male infertility relates to issues where a man unlikely to impregnate a woman. This is due to a low sperm count or abnormal sperm, which can be caused by any of the following: hormonal problems, varicocele (a collection of bulging veins above the testicle), chemotherapy treatment, genetic abnormalities or by taking certain medications, like anabolic steroids.
Women’s reproductive health issues
Endometriosis is a reproductive issue that affects a woman’s uterus where tissue that should line the uterus, grows elsewhere. This misplaced lining sometimes grows on the ovaries, the bowels or even the bladder. The effects are quite serious as it causes infertility. Symptoms include pain in the abdomen, lower back and pelvic area. There are a number of ways to treat endometriosis, some of which include: hormone therapy, medication or surgery (like a hysterectomy to remove the ovaries).
2. Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumours that form in and around the wall of the uterus or womb. Symptoms include heavy, painful menstrual cycles, frequent urination, painful sex and lower back pain. Uterine fibroids can also result in infertility problems. They can be treated with medication or removed entirely through traditional or non-invasive surgical methods.
There are a number of life-threatening cancers which affect a woman’s reproductive system, the most common of which is cervical cancer. The Cancer Association of South Africa confirms that cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer affecting women in the country after breast cancer. It’s caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and can cause infertility. Women are encouraged to visit their gynaecologist and get a regular pap smear, regardless of whether or not they are sexually active, from the ages of 21-65 years. Other forms of reproductive cancers include ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer and vulvar cancer. Reproductive cancer is treated using a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
4. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects a woman’s ovaries. It is a hormonal imbalance and occurs when the adrenal glands produce an excess amount of male hormones, which results in an irregular menstrual cycle, excess body or facial hair growth and the development of cysts on the ovaries. In addition to experiencing fertility problems, women with PCOS increase their risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. PCOS is often treated with hormone therapy.
Factors affecting both men and women’s reproductive health
While HIV/AIDS affects both genders in South Africa, women are at a greater risk than men of being infected. HIV can also be spread from mother to child through breastfeeding or during pregnancy. The Health4Me HIV benefit offers comprehensive cover to those members on the Momentum Health4Me Gold plan. Once registered and following the official waiting periods, members are entitled to antiretroviral medications in accordance with the Momentum CareCross Network HIV medication formulary.
2. Sexually transmitted diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are contracted by having sexual intercourse with an infected person. There are more than 20 types of STDs that both men and women can contract. In many cases though, health problems can prove to be more severe for women, especially with regards to fertility issues. For instance, gonorrhoea and chlamydia are both STDs that, if left untreated, can cause a serious pelvic inflammatory disease in a women’s reproductive organs.
Will health insurance cover reproductive health problems?
It will depend on the type of health insurance plan you’re covered for as you may need to visit a specialist, like a urologist, oncologist or gynaecologist for diagnosis and treatment. This will only be covered by the Momentum Health4Me Gold health insurance plan.
Make your reproductive health a priority with Bloom
Reproductive health is a serious concern that shouldn’t be ignored. Failure to get treatment could result in severe infertility problems or even a life-threatening condition. Make sure you’re aware of the symptoms of the common reproductive health issues affecting both men and women.
Get health insurance cover for day to day benefits and chronic conditions by contacting our team who can explain our health insurance plans to help find you cover that suits your budget and needs.
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