One of the
1 in 10
Nana Afua Antwi is an award-winning model and philanthropist. In May 2011, Antwi became an ambassador for Save the Children International, and in June 2012, she launched her own non-profit organisation, the Akosua Odei Foundation (AOF), named after her late mother. AOF was created to empower young women via local apprenticeship schemes that serve rural communities in Ghana (Nana is British-Ghanaian), and her passion for empowering women and girls has also lead her to collaborate with several charitable organizations in the UK - including her current work with increasing endometriosis awareness.
Endometriosis is a disease affecting around 1 in 10 women, including Antwi herself, and that’s why she has taken it upon herself to make a difference for the many women who are suffering from the condition, which causes pelvic pain - sometimes extreme – often in connection with menstruation.
The biggest problem with endometrioses is that it often goes undiagnosed, and if not discovered in time, it can be destructive: besides the excruciating pain some women experience, it can also ruin your reproductive system. The condition is a result of the appearance of endometrial tissue outside the uterus, and there is no cure for it. The only permanent treatment available is surgery, which entails removal of the uterus.
Having struggled with endometriosis herself, Antwi partnered with the organisation Endometriosis UK earlier this year. Antwi was diagnosed two years ago, and is currently advocating to create awareness about the many cases of endometriosis that goes undiagnosed for year, due to a lack of research on and knowledge of the disease.
As part of her activism, Antwi organised a charity event in her local community Highams Park in North East London in March this year, to reach out to women and girls with symptoms, so they could get diagnosed and seek further assistance from Endometriosis UK and the National Health Service (NHS). At the event, Antwi also emphasized the need for schools to teach menstrual wellbeing and stop treating periods like a dirty secret – the key to more openness about the symptoms of endometrioses and how to seek help. We asked Nana to tell us more about her work.
Although endometriosis affects as many as 1 in 10 women, it is still a very little known disease. Do you think it’s because it’s considered «a women’s issue» and therefore not taken as seriously as diseases that affect all genders, a problem we also have seen with other diseases that only/mainly affect women?
For a long time, women living with endometriosis were just dismissed as “having a bad period,” something which left women with the disease unaware of how destructive it can be. So I think yes – it’s a woman issue and therefore not yet taken seriously, unlike if the disease had affected both genders.
You have mentioned that early diagnosis can help alleviate the symptoms of endometriosis, as the disease has four different stages – minimal, mild, moderate and severe. What can be done to promote more awareness about this, and make early diagnosis more widely available?
Women’s health research systematically needs improvement, and as a woman I feel it’s difficult to talk about an intimate disease like this, which causes long time suffering. I believe open conversations on our health issues can improve the dynamics, instead of battling it alone. The more we talk about and emphasize the dangers of this disease; the more people we can reach and make difference for.
Can you tell us a bit about the organisations you are working with to create awareness of how endometriosis is affecting women’s health, and what your strategy in this work is?
I signed up to be a member of Endometriosis UK, which has the vision to improve the lives of people affected by endometriosis, and work towards a future where it has the least possible impact on those living with the condition. My strategy is to work with them as an advocate to empower women on how they can get further help and live more comfortably with the disease.
You are based in the UK, and also want to reach out to the NHS for them to support and do further research on this disease. Can you tell us how you are planning to do this, and what you hope the end result will be?
My main mission is to reach out to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists RCOG via Endometriosis UK, to encourage further research on proper treatment of all the stages of endometriosis. I also want to work for for the NHS to offer regular check-ups for women to get an early diagnose – the same routine as they have with cervical cancer.