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Why France’s Plan to tackle Endometriosis Matters

Rarely Discussed, Badly Diagnosed, Dreadful Pain

On January 11th the French President Emmanuel Macron announced a three-stage domestic strategic plan to tackle endometriosis: investing new national funds into medical research, improving treatment and raising awareness of the debilitating condition in both public and medical circles.

It is not a problem of women. It is a problem of society” the French Head of State proclaimed, placing responsibility upon every school, university, home and office to have these important conversations.

Yet in the last week, when mentioning this article I’ve been greeted with some understanding nods but equally a great deal of confusion. Endometriosis has been cast aside for decades, misunderstood and low down on the agenda, and leading UK charity stats reveal that 62% of British women between 16-24 don’t know what the condition is themselves.

The female reproductive system and menstruation remain somewhat shameful and awkward topics within our society, even though there have been many well-intentioned attempts to destruct the taboo – TikTok trends showing shocked men how tampons work spring to mind.

But there is light-heartedness and then there is the life-changing, and inaction from most world leaders is unacceptable when a gender health gap has spiralled out of control in the medical community.

What is Endometriosis?

180 million women around the world suffer from this gynaecological disease where tissues usually found inside the uterus grow outside on the ovaries, fallopian tubes and pelvis. This causes excessive bleeding, irritation, scar tissue and even instances where organs stick together. The resulting symptoms include extreme pain around and throughout periods, urinary disfunction, intestinal issues, painful sex, chronic fatigue and resulting infertility.

This equates to one in ten women, and many experts consider the data to be much higher because it is currently so badly known about.

There has been so little global investment into research that the actual cause of the disease remain unknown, as is the way it works and the whole scope of its impacts. It currently takes an average of eight years to diagnose endometriosis and it is often only when it induces agonizing pain that doctors are eventually pushed to conduct further tests.

Such brutal facts spurred the French government into “breaking the silence” this month, when they became the first country to prioritise investment into a national research programme. “Healthcare professionals must be trained to better recognise the illness and use the treatments available” Mr Macron warned, alluding that substandard and haphazard medical response would no longer be tolerated.

It took four years and eight months from the time Emmanuel Macron first mentioned an interest in this project in 2017 for actual commitment to be announced. The vague strategy was outlined without any detailed budget, clear goals for Oliver Véran’s leading committee, or specific projects for the various French regions.

But a call for action from this high-ranking political figure provided an unprecedented spotlight for the condition that moreover appears believably heartfelt. “It is so important to be listened to, and supported” was the clear message that France’s leaders wanted to give when they promoted video testimonials of long term endometriosis sufferers. No other country has paid such close and visible attention to this chronic illness.

Endometriosis and the uK

Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny: period pains, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives, men don’t.” British TV programme Fleabag Season 2′ s infamous soliloquy encapsulated the stoic acceptance of inevitable pain that prevails in the UK.

In keeping with global stats one in ten UK women suffer from this gynaecological condition – as many as are affected by diabetes. Endometriosis is no small issue, costing the UK economy £8.2 billion a year in treatment, work loss and healthcare costs.

But unlike our French counterparts this is not seen as an issue for all of society, and the small sum of MPs who attended the debate in November 2021 on the lack of research and funding to understand and treat endometriosis were primarily women. Westminster Hall remains unused to frank discussions on female pain was one apt deduction of the event.

Inaction has proven truly dangerous. In the absence of a coordinated research and awareness programme, sufferers in the UK have been subjected to ‘medical gaslighting’, where they are told to take painkillers and simply put up with the condition. Surveys reveal that over 58% of women with endometriosis have to visit a GP more than ten times to get a diagnosis, and 53% end up in A&E beforehand.

The British medical community has been known to treat endometriosis as important only for its fertility ramifications, with women being told to go away until they want a baby and having to seek management advice from online support groups instead.

Labour MP Alexander Norris provided a refreshing perspective on this stance during the November 2021 debate. Recognising that one in ten men will also present with erectile dysfunction, he affirmed it would be very unlikely that a GP would advise a man to wait until they wanted to have children to get treatment, and certainly would not recommend removing the offending organ as is suggested to women. “Just as we would not tolerate that attitude, we should not tolerate it for anybody in this country” Norris said with the same vigour as Macron, though the shameful reality is that in the UK this voice will not have reached as many ears.

But times could be changing, and in Spring 2022 the Department of Health and Social Care’s ‘Women’s Health Strategy Vision‘ document is due to outline the government’s plans to decrease the gender health gap in England, which will include recognising endometriosis as a priority area. It is the first step towards securing research funding and support for healthcare professionals, and could bring the UK into a refined age of medical recognition towards issues that primarily affect women.

Ultimately the UK needs to look beyond the statistics in their assessment and recognise the real people affected, something made abundantly clear by the young actors in the charity video ‘The Wait‘. It’s an important watch.

Third-year Law student and Co-President for Her Campus Bristol 2021-22. I'm interested in covering stories that communicate my passions and uplift inspirational women everywhere! Please reach out to hc.bristol@hercampus.com if you have any questions or want to get involved!
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