HomeHealthProvide rape survivors with psychological support, emergency contraception, experts urge Zamfara govt

Provide rape survivors with psychological support, emergency contraception, experts urge Zamfara govt

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Angela Onwuzoo

Medical experts have urged the Zamfara State Government to provide women survivors of recent cases of abduction and rape psychological support to enable them to recover from the traumatic experience.

Psychological support to the rape survivors, they said, is required to prevent them from coming down with mental health problems in the future.

The experts, who spoke to PUNCH HealthWise, equally want the government to sensitise the women on the need to seek help early, while also ensuring that they are given emergency contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

According to the experts, the government should ensure that the survivors can access prompt care in tandem with the standard treatment protocol for a rape survivor.

Emergency contraception pill
Emergency contraception pill. Image source: NHS

Recall that an international medical organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), had, on Thursday, in a statement, raised the alarm that cases of sexual violence had increased in Zamfara State in recent times.

“From January to April, our teams in Zamfara have received over 100 survivors of sexual violence,” said MSF’s Dr. Noble Nma, medical activity manager in Shinkafi, where the MSF runs a clinic for survivors of sexual violence.

Nma stated, “Women and sometimes men are abducted by armed men and subjected to violation for a few weeks before being returned to their community. This is in addition to the violence faced by women within the community itself.”

He said rape survivors often seek support when it is late.

He stated, “The survivors are afraid to take the roads, so they usually arrive at our clinics too late to prevent sexually transmitted infections and serious mental trauma.

“They tell us that there are more survivors out there who are afraid to travel here, so we fear that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise on how government could help such women avert unwanted pregnancies, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi Araba, Dr. Ephraim Ohazurike, said the survivors should be given emergency contraception.

Ohazurike explained, “There is a treatment protocol for rape survivors. So, if the protocol is followed, part of it is to give them emergency contraception. If the protocol is followed, we will be able to prevent a lot of pregnancies.

“If a lady is raped and she presents to the clinic on time, at least within three to five days of the rape, one of the treatments that the lady can get is emergency contraception. But, if the lady presents outside these three to five days window, there is little one can do if she becomes pregnant.

“The problem is that the abortion law in Nigeria is still restrictive. As long as the abortion law is restrictive, there is nothing anyone can do because at that point in time, the lady coming to you with rape and already pregnant should probably benefit from abortion.

“But because it is restrictive, there is very little that one can do. For mental health’s sake, there should be room for such women to acquire or procure abortion legally if they don’t want to keep the pregnancy.

“The government should sensitise rape survivors to come out and seek help.”

The gynaecologist said the government should also let the survivors know that these services are available.

On the issue of hospitals in the state stocking abortion pills or family planning pills for emergencies, Ohazurike said hospitals are supposed to stock abortion pills but since abortion is not legal in Nigeria, most hospitals don’t stock these pills.

“Family planning pills are available. But because we don’t have abortion clinics, most times, the hospitals don’t stock abortion pills. They may be in the pharmacy. But the morning-after pill is not for abortion, it is to prevent pregnancy. It is a form of emergency contraception. It should be available in the clinics,” he said.

A Clinical Psychologist at the Department of Psychiatry, LUTH, Dr. Juliet Ottoh, said the government should deploy a group psychological setting approach to manage the mental health of the women by bringing them together to share their experiences.

“Let them hear from other people that they are not alone. The women will have different experiences.

“Some may say it is a normal thing; some may pass out; some may have a hormonal imbalance and develop some mental illnesses; others may develop high blood pressure because of the pressure as at that time.

“People will experience it differently; so when they express themselves together, they are able to heal faster”, Ottoh said.

According to her, many of the survivors will require a long period of psychological support to heal.

“Group psychological setting is the best approach. The government should bring them together to share their experiences, rather than individually”, she added.

The psychologist warned that the women could suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental illnesses, if they don’t get the right support.

The expert also noted that likely conditions predisposing a man to rape include paraphilia (a condition characterised by abnormal sexual desires, typically involving extreme or dangerous activities), attachment problems, mania, and cognitive distortions.

Also speaking with our correspondent, a Consultant Family Physician and Head of Department, Family Medicine Department, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr. Ibrahim Kuranga-Suleiman, said the women must be checked for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and be given necessary treatment, including emergency contraception.

“We have a protocol to follow to prevent unwanted pregnancies. People who are raped should report early to the hospital, not minding the stigma that people attach to it before it is too late.

“Educating these survivors is the most important thing, so that they know what to do and where to seek help,” Kuranga-Suleiman said.

When contacted and asked if rape survivors in Zamfara have access to pre-exposure prophylaxis that will shield them from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, Permanent Secretary, Zamfara State Ministry of Health, Dr. Habibu Yelwa, said to our correspondent, “I can’t to talk to you on phone. Come to Zamfara and meet me and let’s talk face to face.”

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