Uvi Health, a health-tech platform for women, recently conducted a survey investigating the awareness and prevalence of various SRH conditions in India. The study, conducted across females in the age group 17-50 in Urban cities, found a lack of education and awareness among women regarding SRH conditions.
“Women form the backbone of our society, yet their health is given most attention only during pregnancy and childbirth. However, every woman might experience some form of sexual and reproductive health concern in their life. This could manifest as PCOS, UTI, endometriosis, or sexual and pelvic health complications. The social stigma attached to accessing SRH services and the limited access to non-judgemental care prevents women from receiving timely care and attention,” said Mehak Malik, co-founder of Uvi Health.
The survey revealed that over 40% of urban Indian women were unaware of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which affects roughly 10% of the global population. The awareness could be much lower among rural women. The study says over 60% of women are unaware of hyperthyroidism and less than 30% know of other SRH conditions such as endometriosis and vaginismus. However, awareness about Breast Cancer and HIV/AIDS was relatively higher at about 75%.
PCOS emerged as the most common sexual and reproductive health condition experienced by the respondents. However, less than 15% of the respondents aware of the condition had a formal diagnosis. The actual rate could be much higher as many women go undiagnosed due to the absence of a single diagnostic criterion.
The most common prevalence statistic (1 in 5) comes from The Metropolis, a pathology chain that conducted an 18-month pan India study in 2016 to measure testosterone levels among women. However, given the complex nature of the syndrome and the varying symptoms observed among different women, this may at best indicate a risk of PCOS over the actual incidence of PCOS.
Despite its prevalence, very little is known about how women are diagnosed, their symptoms, and treatment options. The gold standard for diagnosing PCOS is the Rotterdam Criteria which requires a patient to present two of three signs (irregular periods, excess androgens, or polycystic ovaries). Only 17% of our respondents stated that their clinicians investigated all three conditions before diagnosing. 32% of respondents were diagnosed based on only two of three conditions, 49% were diagnosed based on only one condition.
Mehak added, “The low awareness numbers and high prevalence rates are no shock to most experts in the field. Sexual and reproductive health has not been a priority in our society and culture, and that has to change. For PCOS, the genetic risk factors are very high in India, which explains why the Indian prevalence rate is at least twice as much as the global average of 10% (or 1 in 10 women). 57% of women we surveyed said they had a history of PCOS or diabetes in their family.”
The survey also revealed that most respondents felt that their family and doctors were a reliable support system. Interestingly, less than 30% of respondents considered their spouse and friends part of their support system.
Dr. Theertha Shetty, an OBGYN with over eight years of experience and one of the experts at Uvi Health, said, “It is time that women’s sexual and reproductive health become a priority, and this survey is a step in the right direction. This survey highlights symptoms, diagnosis rate, and common treatment options available, which will bridge the gap of current information. I hope people read this survey and try to overcome the taboo of seeking help for these issues.”