COVID-19 took its toll on families, especially women. The struggle to keep kids fed, clothed and focused on virtual learning while trying to keep up with their jobs in their makeshift home office overwhelmed many family heads. That meant that their own healthcare concerns faded into the background, and understandably so.
As the world is slowly returning to normal, we are seeing more women returning for preventive care and checkups. My organization, Neighborhood Healthcare, saw a 20% increase in female attendance from pre-COVID times in 2021.
Telehealth and other services make it easier to engage with healthcare professionals, and we certainly encourage that when needed. Perhaps the reality of the global pandemic has also made more people, including women, realize the importance of taking the time to focus on their health. Whatever the reason, we are happy with this improving trend!
Women, in particular, should take the time to take care of themselves. Many continue to serve others in multiple roles inside and outside the home with work and parenting. The more women focus on their health needs, the better they can help those they love.
Even women without adequate health insurance can get the care they need through assistance programs. Organizations like ours can help identify these opportunities and help patients through the enrollment process. Quality, compassionate, whole-person care is—and should be—available to everyone, especially women. At a minimum, we encourage all women to do the following:
Get a mammogram
Mammograms can often show a lump in the breast before it can be felt. These scans can also detect other noncancerous abnormalities that need to be treated. Women over the age of 40 should schedule a mammogram every one to two years, and we recommend that all women discuss options with their healthcare provider.
Schedule a Pap smear
A Pap smear, also called a Pap smear, detects cervical cancer in women. Getting it early can give women a better chance of noticing and curing this problem early. According to the guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, we recommend that women between the ages of 21 and 29 have a Pap test every three years, and between the ages of 30 and 65 every five years for an HPV/Pap co-test.
Consider the HPV Vaccine for Girls
This vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer if given before girls or women are exposed to the virus.
However, the HPV vaccine is not limited to girls and women. We have recommended that boys and girls receive two doses six months apart as early as 9 years of age, but usually between 11 and 12 years of age. The CDC also recommends a catch-up schedule for anyone up to age 26.
The trend in the increasing number of preventive health care visits by women is encouraging, and we hope it continues, not just for them, but for others as well. In most cases, the family unit is healthier if the female head of the household puts her well-being first.
Elena Chavarria is the director of the Women’s Health Program at Neighborhood Healthcare, a nonprofit community health organization for San Diego and Riverside Counties that provides care for everyone, regardless of their situation or circumstance.