Assivavi Agbogbe | October 31, 2022
Mireille Atchon Sidibé had her first period at the age of 16. Her periods were heavy and lasted a full seven days, and sometimes longer. Though she didn’t know it, this is a key symptom of uterine fibroids. When Mrs. Sidibé became pregnant at the age of 25, the obstetrician confirmed: she had a uterine fibroid, a non-cancerous or benign tumour that develops in the wall of the uterus. He advised her that she would need to start treatment after giving birth. But Mrs. Sidibé neglected to have her fibroid treated and over the course of twenty years, it occupied more and more space in her uterus. Finally, Mrs. Sidibé had surgery and needed to have both the fibroid and her uterus removed. Fibroids have no precise cause but are more likely with age. There are no preventive measures, but regular monitoring of reproductive health can result in early diagnosis and treatment.
Mireille Atchon Sidibé is a 45-year-old woman who lives in Sebenicoro, a district in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Today, Mrs. Sidibé is spending the day with her family, as she does every last Sunday of the month. She takes advantage of these gatherings to share her story and raise awareness about the uterine fibroid she suffered from a few years ago.
Mrs. Sidibé had her first period at the age of 16. At the time, she was worried that her periods were heavy and lasted a full seven days, and sometimes longer. Though she didn’t know it, this is a key symptom of uterine fibroids.
When Mrs. Sidibé became pregnant at the age of 25, she had an ultrasound at her first prenatal consultation. The obstetrician concluded that she had a uterine fibroid.
Luckily, it had not fully developed and her pregnancy progressed normally. But the doctor warned her that, after giving birth, she had to start treating the fibroid.
Dr. Mamadou Coulibaly is a doctor who specializes in sexual and reproductive health at the Bankass Health Centre. He says a uterine fibroid is a non-cancerous or benign tumour that develops in the wall of the uterus.
He says these tumours have no precise cause but are more likely with age. According to Dr. Coulibaly, 30% of 20-to 30-year-old women have uterine fibroids, and this increases to 50% for women aged 50 and over.
According to Dr. Coulibaly, the possible health consequences of uterine fibroids can be disastrous, and include bleeding, anaemia, infertility, miscarriages, and premature delivery.
There are no preventive measures, but regular monitoring of reproductive health can result in early diagnosis and treatment.
But after giving birth, Mrs. Sidibé neglected to have her fibroid treated, despite heavy menstrual bleeding. Over the course of twenty years, the uterine fibroid occupied more and more space in her uterus. She admits, “I went so long without medical care because I was afraid of surgery.”
The growth of the fibroid caused other health issues for Mrs. Sidibé. She explains: “I was severely anaemic, I lost my appetite, I had insomnia, severe migraines, a severe lack of magnesium, frequent indigestion, frequent dizziness and fainting, anxiety, and urine leakage.”
Finally, Mrs. Sidibé had surgery—but in some ways, it was too late.
She says: “Before the operation, the doctor informed me that, for the operation to be successful, both the tumour and my uterus had to be removed because the damage was enormous. I was very saddened by this news, but in the end it had to be done because my life was at stake, even if it meant sacrificing my desire to have several children.”
A diagnosis of uterine fibroids is uncommon in Mali because of lack of awareness of the condition. Mrs. Sidibé says, “We need to raise awareness at all levels, especially among mothers, because before my diagnosis, I didn’t know that a young girl could have fibroids.”
After her successful surgery, Mrs. Sidibé is now dedicated to raising awareness about fibroids. She explains, “I often talk about it with my family, but also in the WhatsApp groups I am in. We shouldn’t keep silent about this condition.”
The Bankass Health Centre is committed to raising awareness and encouraging women to be tested. Dr. Coulibaly says, “We do educational sessions and focus groups, and we work through the media to talk about uterine fibroids.”
These sessions aim to help women identify uterine fibroids and get early treatment. Early treatment often means that medication can help control the fibroids, and that surgery may not be necessary.
This resource was produced through the “HÉRÈ – Women’s Well-Being in Mali” initiative, which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health well-being of women and girls and to strengthen the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in Sikasso, Ségou, Mopti, and the district of Bamako in Mali. The project is implemented by the HÉRÈ – MSI Mali Consortium, in partnership with Farm Radio International (FRI) and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) with funding from Global Affairs Canada.
Photo: Mireille Atchon Sidibé with her children. Photo submitted by Mireille Atchon Sidibé.