Hyderabad: Spurthi Kolipaka was lying half-naked with his legs apart on a bed in the ultrasound room, trying to calm down. During a scan a week ago, she was asked to get a pap smear as soon as possible as her cervix seemed unhealthy and it was important to rule out cancer quickly. She had been scared when she was advised to take the test.
As she lay in the ultrasound room, she tried to calm her thoughts as the radiologist used a vaginal speculum (used to hold the vaginal walls apart and see the cervix), a small cone-shaped brush, and a spatula to move samples of the cervix to collect entered cells. Just before inserting the instrument, the radiologist Spurthi asked, “Are you married?” to which she replied, “No.” In a split second, the radiologist withdrew the instrument and refused to perform the test. Spurthi left the Sudha Diagnostic Center in Kompally with tears in his eyes.
A Pap smear is done to determine if a woman has cervical cancer. The test looks for precancerous, or cancerous, cells in the cervix, the opening of the womb. During the test, cells are gently scraped from the cervix and removed to check for abnormal growth.
In a similar incident, Namrata Tripathi, a photo-video artist and unmarried woman, was repeatedly shamed while having a Pap smear at one of the branches of the Vijaya Diagnostic Center in Medchal Malkajgiri. “I’ve been doing pap smear tests since I was 24 years old. Now I’m 28. So far I’ve taken the test three times and every time I leave they ask me if I’m married and embarrass me when I say I’m not.”
She added: “Initially they refuse to take the test. Then I have to talk to a senior doctor and convince him. Only then will I be tested. It happens every time.” She said the lab techs act unprofessionally and start giggling when she tells them she’s unmarried.
According to the American Cancer Society, all women age 21 and older are required to have a Pap smear every three years. The American health information website, Healthline, also writes that a pap smear test should be performed regardless of sexual activity status.
“Are you saying that all women should get married by 21?” Spurthi, a social worker and WASH adviser to the Telangana government, asked the radiologist.
Spurthi explained how difficult it is to find diagnostic centers that do the test. Some of them do the test, but when she called and asked, she was told, “Technician not available.” She also said some of these centers require a prescription from a gynecologist to do the test. “It’s just an alibi to cover up their regressive thoughts,” Spurthi said.
Female identity associated with males for basic medical facilities
It’s important to remember that in all of these cases, the women were willing to have the test done, but their consent was of no value. It shows how women have no authority over their own bodies. It is a very alarming situation when a woman’s identity is linked to a man and she has to prove it in order to get basic medical care.
Spurthi was also concerned that the derogatory remarks came from a female doctor and that the diagnostic center she visited was run by women. “This is the perfect example of women upholding patriarchy,” she said.
It is important to remember that doctors take a medical oath before entering the profession not to discriminate against any of their patients. But here these doctors are not ready to give up their regressive ideas. Rather, they tell women to live and die with their cancer cells if they don’t want to conform to societal norms.
The whole episode is traumatic for women and shakes their confidence. “First of all, after the ultrasound test, which revealed that I had to have a pap test, I was afraid to just go. Also, when I was looking for a suitable diagnostic center, I was all the more afraid of running out of space. After my experience in the laboratory, I was deeply hurt by the humiliation and general pain of patriarchy. Hearing it from the most educated people was even more painful,” says Spurthi.
Namrata, on the other hand, who has meanwhile gotten used to this humiliation, is no longer affected. Rather, she is angry and sad about these still existing social norms and lack of awareness.
NewsMeter tried to find Dr. To contact Sudha, the radiologist who runs Sudha Diagnostics, but she has not responded. We spoke to an employee at the diagnostic center, but he was unable to provide any reasons for these instructions. They insisted the doctor chose to do the test after seeing a gynecologist’s prescription for a safer procedure.
“Huh? Sexually active before marriage?”
dr Prabha Agarwal of Care Hospital in Hyderabad said a pap smear test is done for a married woman or a sexually active woman over the age of 21. Unfortunately, the latter case is completely neglected in some Hyderabad labs, simply because our society does not condone women being sexually active before marriage.
“If a woman over the age of 21 shows any symptoms, she needs to get a doctor’s prescription and a pap smear. If there are no symptoms and the woman is sexually inactive, she does not need a test because unnecessary testing can cause vaginal infections. Also, if the hymen is not perforated, it would be uncomfortable,” explains Dr. Prabha.
dr Prabha also says that a pap smear does not require a prescription from a gynecologist. Any woman who wants to have it done can get tested with a doctor’s prescription.