Reproductive health in Malta is often swept under the rug with many women facing misdiagnosis, judgment, and medicine shortages when dealing with conditions that affect their ovaries.
Stigma clouds these matters from being discussed openly, and feelings of shame are deeply internalised, making it a hard topic to be educated about. A long-awaited sexual health policy continues to face delays and many are suffering because of it.
Lovin Malta spoke to several women living with these health conditions, in order to help shed light on these matters and spread more awareness.
1. So what are some of these conditions?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, better known as PCOS, is a common condition that affects the way a woman’s ovaries work. The main features are irregular periods, excess androgen, and cysts growing within the ovaries. If left untreated, it can lead to infertility.
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Ovarian cysts can either grow as a symptom of PCOS or develop as part of the menstrual cycle. They are extremely common and not nearly discussed enough.
2. Misdiagnosis is all too common
Women who spoke to Lovin Malta made it clear that misdiagnosis is all too common in Malta. Many spoke about cases where proper testing was not carried out resulting in the needed treatment not being given.
“Once I ended up in hospital because my doctor thought my ovary exploded,” one person said.
In many cases, this can cause many complications down the line and may have very harsh consequences.
“I used to have periods where I would be throwing up and shaking on the floor with pain – was told by my GP that I just have to get used to it and given no other solution,” said another.
Some also spoke about how they were given the wrong medication, which led to consequences such as grave hormone imbalances. One, in particular, told the newsroom that she was given the wrong medication three times in a row, and was also misdiagnosed with PCOS.
3. Shortages are affecting crucial treatment
Another issue is that birth control is not considered an essential medicine in Malta. Shortages are common and can seriously affect women that need to take it for conditions such as PCOS and Endometriosis or to keep ovarian cysts at bay.
“I’ve been on the pill since I was 14, and I have small dormant ovarian cysts which are dormant because of the pill. Birth control can have some downsides but it’s really helped me in this regard,” one woman said.
There are also extreme consequences when birth control is randomly stopped, and the body is passed through unimaginable discomfort, both physically and mentally.
Another woman reported struggling with PCOS and keeping it at bay using birth control, but her pill once went out of stock due to proper prioritization not being given, and an ovarian cyst started to grow.
“Diagnosed with PCOS, my pill went out of stock – and an ovarian cyst started to grow.”
4. Buying crucial medicine is still taboo
Many women also spoke out about the judgment they receive when they go purchase birth control pills from local pharmacies in Malta.
“I remember the first time I went to buy birth control and I had to visit six pharmacies to find the specific birth control I needed. It shouldn’t be a treasure hunt. What really stood out to me is the ugly looks I got for simply asking for birth control?” one person said.
“I found it highly unprofessional as pharmacists shouldn’t judge especially when they don’t know what the person is going to be taking it for. Even if it was just for sexual protection, people shouldn’t leave the pharmacy feeling ashamed for buying medication.”
Unfortunately, the issues speak of a wider problem. Malta’s public sexual health services remain worryingly under-resourced, with some having no choice but to opt for private healthcare if they can afford it.
The Ministry of Health was also contacted to see whether they have anything in place to improve this situation of sexual health education and policy, but no answer was given.
Have you experienced anything similar in Malta?