Shaista Fatima/New Delhi
During a brief break from seeing patients at her residential clinic at Laxmi Nagar in East Delhi, Dr. Bushra Khanam says, “If it wasn’t for my mother and mother-in-law, I wouldn’t have been a doctor with an established clinic.”
Dr.Bushra Khanam is a BUMS from Jamia Hamdard University and has been treating women and children for the past three decades now. Hailing from a middle-class family in Old Delhi, she grew up among her 10 siblings. She says her parents focused on the education of their children. After she was married to Mohammed Rashid, her mother-in-law encouraged her to open her clinic. Today, As a tribute, Dr. Khanam has named her clinic after her mother-in-law Fatima Ji.
She specializes in menstrual hygiene and has recently started organizing camps in collaboration with NGO Awaz-e-Khwateen to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene.
In a conversation with Shaista Fatima of Awaz-the Voice, she shared her experiences and also busted some myths around menstruation.
When did you start spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene?
I normally treat patients from the lower economic strata of society. The women from that community are not even aware of basic hygiene, not to speak of menstrual hygiene. Seeing this, I decided to educate the mothers and daughters about the dos and don’ts of hygiene.
What triggered the idea that a doctor like you should jump into spreading awareness about hygiene?
Women patients who come to my clinic suffer from fungal infections in their private parts. It got me worried and after a lot of thinking, I realized that they use dirty cloth for blood flow during menses and reuse the same the next time. Some girls who come to my clinic are not even aware of why they are bleeding. They come to me bleeding and thinking that they are suffering from a disease. Others are not even aware of how to use a cotton pad or that one has to wear underwear to hold the pad or a sanitary towel. This was a wake-up call for me. I not only made them aware of the different types of pads but also told them to keep their private parts dry for avoiding a fungal infection.
How tough was it for you to make them understand the importance of hygiene?
It is quite tough. You see women and girls from the lower sections of society are quite stubborn, and making them understand that using a dirty cloth not only spreads infection in their private parts but on the whole body, is not easy.
I try to speak to them about it. I also show them illustrations and drawings and magazines that are published by various agencies specifically for this purpose. I tell them that their careless attitude can lead to a delay in conception, cancer of the uterus, and at times the reason for untimely death. This all begins with normal itching. I try my best to reason with them and so far, I have been successful.
Any particular cases that you’d want to mention?
I had a patient who was suffering from herpes (a viral infection) due to a lack of hygiene. In layman’s language, herpes can be described as a condition where the patient develops painful sores on or inside any part of the body. This patient had developed painful sores around her private parts, and fungal infections all over her body and it was painful to see her suffering so badly.
I advised her to keep her private parts dry as much as possible and use medicinal powder, sanitary pads, and tissues to wipe the private parts. The treatment went on for some time and she was cured. I feel along with proper medication the women need a lot of moral support and education about the right ways.
Dr. Bushra Khanam
Do you feel that the lower economic strata among the Muslim community are highly affected by unawareness about menstrual hygiene?
Yes, they are. I feel while the girls and women from even among these sections of society are outspoken even in the lower strata yet there is no awareness about the grave topics as there is no talk about it in the households. The daughters are shy to ask their mother while the mothers feel it is taboo to talk about it. This needs to change as soon as possible. In India, girls start menstruating at the age of eleven, this is at times unacceptable to the mothers. The mothers have asked me many times “Why is she having her periods so early?” I have no answer to their query. I tell them: “This is normal”. I think we need to normalize bleeding and we need to do away with the taboo around menses. It is normal and perfectly okay to bleed every month.
So, when these patients, the mothers and daughters come to me, I speak with them rather forthrightly. My effort is to make them break the myth and taboo around menses. and tell the daughters to take it easy. I instruct the mothers to take care of their daughter’s diet on these days as the girls are growing age. I also tell them to teach them personal and menstrual hygiene like wearing undergarments and using sanitary pads (towels) during menses. I ask them to change their pads every two hours and wash their hands regularly. I tell them personal hygiene is a step towards a better and fungus-free life.
What has been the most challenging case for you, so far?
It was the Covid-19 time that was the most challenging as there was limited medicinal help available. I along with my husband who is a pharmacist tried our best to help the patients. I even assisted during childbirth. My husband helped many in cracking pharma examination and today we together also run our pharmacy outlets.
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Any piece of advice that you’d like to share with our readers?
Summers are the most infection-prone time, so I’d say to be most careful during this time as the rate of fungal infection patients is highest. Try to keep the private parts dry and change the pads often.