Salinity has increased in coastal areas of the country due to global warming. Women in these areas are increasingly getting sick from uterus related diseases as they rely on these water sources. Some of them have to go through hysterectomy (uterus removal) at an early age.
Asma Begum, 30, from Satkhira’s Sora Village at Dweep Union of Shyamnagar sub-district, in south-west Bangladesh, is a case in point. She had a hysterectomy at 23.
Asma tells Jago News, “I had bleeding problems since puberty. After my first child, I felt severe burning and pain in my uterus. After the third child, I learned about the infection. When it was intolerable, the doctor removed the uterus as the best possible solution.”
She added, “I’ve been using the salty water of Gabura, a small union at the brink of the Sundarbans which was ravaged by Cyclone Aila in 2009, since birth. Now the saltiness is so severe that sometimes it’s impossible to use it during the summer. But it’s the only alternative we have.”
Her neighbour, Rawshan Jamil, 27, had a hysterectomy when she was even younger than Asma. Both their husbands left them and remarried.
Women from every village of coastal Shyamnagar Upazila are suffering from uterus related diseases. Studies show that the problem is rampant in villages with salinity problems.
Amina Begum, 28, in Ruiyar Beel of Protapnagar Union in Ashashuni said to JaagoNews, “I feel a severe pain in my lower abdomen. Sometimes I can´t even feel the lower part. It feels like something has been torn away. There is an almost constant vaginal discharge which makes it itch too. And it hurts during urination.”
“Doctors suggested a hysterectomy. But my husband rejected the idea. I am under doctor’s observation, but I get these pains and cramps more than 10-15 days a month,” she says.
Shyamnagar’s medical record says that 10% of the yearly operations are uterus related, most of which result in its removal.
The reporter has interviewed 60 women from Shyamnagar. Among them, at least 25 have had hysterectomies.
Doctors say that chronic problems in the uterus can lead to cancer.
The Shyamnagar Friendship Hospital, recounts that 380 women were diagnosed with uterus related diseases from April to December of 2019. 23 of them had a high risk of cancer.
Dr. Tasnuva Afrin, a doctor at the hospital said to Jaago News, “On average, I treat 900 patients per month; out of who 10-12 women have had hysterectomies. And there are many more with similar complaints.”
“They find the hysterectomy the best possible solution. However, it results in complex and increased problems, such as hot flashes, short temper etc, and many husbands abandon them.”
She believes if they received proper treatment, many would not have to remove their uterus.
A research titled ‘Effects of Salinity Spreading Infectious Diseases’ (2018) says, women of southern coastal areas repetitively use and wash menstruation cloths in salty water. This accelerates the risk of getting various diseases.
Hussain Shafayat, civil surgeon of Shatkhira says, “Many women of Shyamnagar are affected by various skin and waterborne diseases along with the problem of leukorrhea. These diseases are much rarer to find in other areas of the country, as they are mainly caused by salty water.”
Shormind Nilormi, Associate Professor of Jahangirnagar University says, “I’ve been working on climate change for quite a long time. Excessive salinity in coastal water is the result of climate change and leads to various physical difficulties.”
“We were used to food scarcity but not water. When the tornado Aila hit in 2009, all the dams were destroyed, and salty water entered the villages. No one has ever bathed in normal water since then,” says Akbor Ali Sana, 58.
He says with a heavy voice, “Last 10-11 years have changed our life drastically while fighting with salty water. I pray that such misery never befalls anyone.”
The Fojo/MRDI project “Improving Investigative Journalism in Bangladesh”, has regular mentorships for experienced journalists. This story was produced by Jesmin Papri, a journalist at Jago News, as part of our mentorship project on environmental investigative journalism.