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Wednesday 17 September  
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Bujumbura, Burundi
Bujumbura, Burundi

Pregnant Muslim women have it tougher in Burundi

Published on : 10 September 2012 - 2:23pm | By RNW Africa Desk (Photo: Flickr/United Nations Photos)
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"I cannot go to a gynaecologist. If I do I'll have problems with my husband," says a pregnant Aicha. Like her, many Muslim women in Burundi are not allowed to be treated by male doctors. It is forbidden. This means that in a country with only three female gynaecologists, access to specialized healthcare for Muslim women is limited.

By Marie-Claire Ndikumana, Bujumbura

Muslims make up 13 percent of the population in Burundi. Most of them are traders, originally from the Middle East, Senegal and Tanzania. Their economic integration may be quite a success, but Muslim women in the country are struggling when it comes to health care. They say their faith forbids them from being treated by a male doctor.

Touched by another man
Aicha, a young shopkeeper, must always be accompanied by her husband, Mohamed Issa, for routine check-ups or any other medical treatment.

“I cannot accept the fact that my wife goes alone to the hospital," says Issa. "I cannot stand the idea of my wife being touched by another man, not even a doctor."

A Muslim religious leader, who prefers anonymity, says it is a universal law: their faith forbids women from being treated by male doctors. What's more, “women can only be treated by Muslim women”, he says, though adds that in the case of Burundi, where female doctors are few, non-Muslim female doctors are accepted; a male doctor can intervene only in the event of medical complications. "But then the husband needs to be present,” he says.

Overbooked
In the whole of Burundi, there are reportedly only 18 gynaecologists – and just three are female. One of them, who wished to remain anonymous, says that she is always overbooked and that most of her patients are Muslim.

But not every Muslim woman can afford to consult a private gynaecologist. A cosultation costs around 30,000 Burundian francs, or 17 euros. The average yearly salary for a woman is 480 euros. Hospital care is free, but getting it means having to be accompanied by a husband. If that's not possible, a woman must stay at home, which increases risks considerably.

The death rate of pregnant women in Burundi was estimated at 620 per 100,000 births in 2007. The government’s objective is to reduce this amount to 200 by 2015.

Expensive
Aicha is not without worries. For her an appointment with one of the three women gynaecologists is very expensive. But sometimes she has no choice. The Burundian government has implemented a policy of free care for pregnant women, but only in public hospitals where most doctors are men.

"I don't know how long I can live with these religious prescriptions,” says Aisha. “It would be easy to go to the nearest hospital. But it is very hard to convince my husband.""

While waiting for the situation to improve, Aicha and many other Muslim women can only count on themselves to convince their husbands to change their attitude.

This may take some time. Aicha's husband, for one, keeps saying: “I find it shameful to watch a gynaecologist touch my wife, especially certain hidden parts of her body. I can’t accept it.”

Discussion

Anonymous 22 March 2014 - 9:54pm

It is a source of concern when people misinterpret religion. Yes it is preferable for a female doctor to attend to female patients, but where there are no female doctors, male doctors can treat them. It is very worrisome for women to be left without medical care whether pregnant or not. The problem could be addressed using long term solutions, as we can not have female doctors overnight, adequate time is required to train them. Please as a fellow Muslim, I am appealing to the affected persons to reconsider their stance, remember that they would stand God Almighty to account for this.

Anonymous 1 December 2012 - 4:09am / Canada

Yet why is it, over and over and over again, Muslims deny that they are misogynists? It is so frustrating. The first thing they will say is that it is the culture, not the religion, which oppresses women. This article (and a zillion others) clearly show that is untrue.

Anonymous 10 September 2012 - 8:10pm / barbados

the men are very stupied if the husband don't want thedoctor to touch the wife then stop haveing sexwith ur wife andthere would't get pregnant.

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