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Taking care of your reproductive health

Written by Jauhara Khan

Understanding and taking care of your reproductive health is important and government is working hard to ensure that South Africans are able to do so easily.

With February being Reproductive Health Awareness month, Pretoria West Hospital Gynaecologist, Dr Samuel Motshelanoka, explained that reproductive health focuses on the healthy functioning of the male and female reproductive systems.

This includes the way men and women plan for their families, the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).Contraceptives and condoms play an important role in the health of your reproductive system.

“Community healthcare centres, clinics and public hospitals offer contraceptives, birth control, check-ups, counselling and various reproductive health procedures for free,” said Dr Motshelanoka.

Contraceptives are considered to be effective in helping prevent unwanted pregnancies and are available to men and women in various forms, he said.

“Women can make use of oral contraceptives, injectable contraceptives, and intrauterine devices [such as the loop] which are effective in preventing pregnancy.”

Dr Motshelanoka added that intrauterine devices such as Mirena, which is a T-shaped device inserted into the uterus, are also effective.

He advised that women should use the morning-after pill only in special cases and not as a regular form of birth control, as it could have negative effects on the body over time.

Men on the other hand are also educated on the importance of taking care of their reproductive health, with condoms being readily available at all government health facilities and circumcisions, which reduce the risk of contracting STIs, being conducted for free.

Dr Motshelanoka said young families should continue to use birth control once they have decided they no longer want children, or they could decide to have a vasectomy (men) or tubal ligation (women).

Tubal ligation, also known as "getting one's tubes tied, is a permanent method of birth control. It involves the blocking of fallopian tubes which prevents eggs from reaching the uterus for implantation.

A vasectomy blocks or cuts each vas deferens tube, keeping sperm cells in the testicles which are absorbed by the body.

Meanwhile, Dr Motshelanoka said infertility is also a topic which the Department of Health also raises awareness about at state health facilities. Tertiary hospitals such as Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria and Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town offer invitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment for free.

The IVF treatment is the process of fertilisation by extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. 

“Patients first need to visit their local community healthcare centre or clinic to be tested to find out why they are unable to fall pregnant.”

This is followed by a woman undergoing a vaginal swab, blood test, pap smear, hormonal profiling and a check of their medical history, while men will undergo a sperm analysis. If the results show they are candidates for in-vitro fertilisation, they will be referred to secondary and tertiary hospitals where they will be prepared for the fertilisation procedure.” 

Dr Motshelanoka said more needs to be done to educate young people and challenge cultural and social beliefs on reproductive health.

“Young people should not feel afraid to visit their local clinics to get more information about their reproductive health. We are available to help them,” he said.