“Ask k lng po, anu yng fels na nkkputi & nagpplaki ng boobs?” (“I’d like to ask, which pills whiten [your skin] and make your boobs bigger?”)
“Pwede ba isabay pills at Myra E?” (“Can I take pills with Myra E [a vitamin E supplement]?”)
“Kailangan ba talaga mag pa kayod ng matris kung gumagamit ng pills?” (“Do I really have to have my uterus scraped/cleaned out if I take pills?”)
These are some of the most common questions I’ve encountered in the last few weeks as I have been assisting our staff in answering messages coming into our ROH Clinic page on Facebook. Nearly everyone on our staff, (even my husband who does not speak Tagalog fluently but is utilizing google translate to help out!), has had to pitch in as our posts have gone viral and we receive hundreds of comments and direct messages pertaining to reproductive health every hour. Our page currently has 40,000 followers and posts we publish are shared hundreds of times and generate thousands of comments. Filipinas from all over the world, from Europe to the Middle East to Asia and all over the Philippines, utilize our page. Our reach through our posts is now well over one million, and this demonstrates the huge demand for clear, science-based health information.
What is our secret for so much engagement? All of our posts are published in Tagalog. We realized that there is so little accurate reproductive health information accessible in Filipino so we began creating content in this local language. The response, as noted, has been phenomenal and we will continue to generate information and make it accessible in this way.
I’ve been surprised at the sheer number of questions relating to Pap Smears. Because Pap smears are a terrible name, I am going to call it a “Cervical Cancer Test” or CCT because we Filipinos love our acronyms. A CCT is a test administered by inserting a cotton swab into a woman’s vaginal canal to collect cervical cells that are then tested to see if there are cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. In the Philippines, Cervical Cancer is the 2nd leading cancer type among women with an estimated 7,277 new cases of, and 3,807 deaths due to, cervical cancer expected to occur every year So it is important for Pinays to get CCTs.
But there is so much confusion and fear of this test. Women describe it using words like kayod (scrape) and raspa (the Filipino term for Dilation and curettage (D&C), which is a procedure to remove tissue from inside your uterus. Doctors perform D&C to diagnose and treat certain uterine conditions — such as heavy bleeding — or to clear the uterine lining after a miscarriage or abortion). These words imply painful scraping and cutting. (As a point of information, CCTs don’t hurt). There’s also a lot of confusion about why this test is needed. The most common misconception connects back to the myth that birth control pills don’t always get absorbed by one’s body but instead accumulate in one’s uterus, and thus a pap smear is needed to scrape all the pills out. Almost a decade after I first heard this belief, I still don’t have a good idea of how this myth came about. We’re working hard to clarify this for people and our most recent post on this topic was shared hundreds of times. Clearly, we need to discuss this more!
Because comprehensive sexuality education has never been an integral part of primary and secondary school education in the Philippines, we have generations of women and men who do not have the information they need to fully understand their bodies and the state of their reproductive health.
I am glad that tens of thousands of Filipinas are now getting the accurate information they deserve. I hope that in the future we can make these conversations mainstream and remove the malice too often associated with discussing one’s body and sexual health.
Do check out our clinic page, as well as our general ROH page, and our page geared for young people called Usapang K. In the meantime, I have to get back to answering questions. Send me yours if you have any!