Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

Lack of female colon surgeons in UAE leaves women 'embarrassed' to ask for help

Medics say conditions like haemorrhoids often go untreated

Dr Sara Al Bastaki is the one of only two female Emirati colorectal surgeon in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National 
Dr Sara Al Bastaki is the one of only two female Emirati colorectal surgeon in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National 

A shortage of female specialists for bowel and colon conditions is causing some women to avoid urgent medical care, doctors have said.

Many women may feel too embarrassed or feel uncomfortable to visit a male consultant, expets warned.

Medics said when patients do visit a doctor they often have advanced forms of conditions like haemorrhoids.

Dr Sara Al Bastaki is one of just two at female colorectal surgeons in Abu Dhabi's network of six government hospitals. Across the country, there are only a handful.

Seven months after joining Sheikh Khalifa Medical City from a residency in Germany, Dr Al Bastaki's clinic is often full with female patients.

“I do get male patients too but the majority are women,” said the Emirati, who went into the field when she noticed the shortage.

“I saw what was lacking in my country and colorectal surgery is one field which is dominated by men."

I was too embarrassed to go to a male doctor as are many other women I know. We suffer in silence or seek the help of gynaecologists

Patient and mother-of-four

Patients often ask to see a female gynaecologist instead and only tell of bowel and colon problems once they see them face to face.

“This is the biggest problem because many are misdiagnosed or given a tablet or creams when they might need surgery,” said Dr Al Bastaki, 39.

One of her patients, from Jordan, has suffered for years with chronic bleeding haemorrhoids.

“I was too embarrassed to go to a male doctor as are many other women I know," said the mother-of-four, 47, who asked not to be named.

Her insurance did not cover treatment in the private sector, she said.

“Only when I heard that there was a female doctor joining SKMC, did I get the courage to seek treatment," she said.

"Many women have haemorrhoids but it is uncomfortable for us to be seen by a male doctor, so we suffer in silence or seek the help of gynaecologists."

The shortage of female specialists comes at a time when colorectal cancers are on the rise and rates of screening remain low.

Dr Bastaki has introduced new video-assisted surgery to the Abu Dhabi government hospital, saving time and preventing the need for more invasive surgery. It is the only hospital in the capital to provide the surgery.

“This is only my seventh month here and I have done around 20 hemorrhoids [operations]," she said.

"In Germany, I saw far fewer complex cases. Here, constipation is a main issue because of diet, lifestyle and lack of exercise."

Until recently she said there was a stigma around her field with families urging their children to pursue general surgery.

Times are changing. We need more female surgeons and specifically colorectal surgeons," she said.

"I am grateful that I had the support of my mother, family and my country."

Updated: July 13, 2019 06:24 PM

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