The information has been passed on through the generations – but is it accurate?
By Reenasti Sekaran
Dr Imelda Balchin is Malaysia’s famous and outspoken gynaecologist. Scroll through her social media – she is one woman who is on a mission to empower women with medical facts and busting myths that come her way.
She’s also a member of the Medical Mythbusters Malaysia (M3), no surprise there! Turn your channel to Astro Ria and you can find her with her very own talk show titled ‘Tanya Dr Imelda’ – a talk show for highlighting women’s health issues.
We meet in her new clinic at KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital. In the midst of decorating her new clinic, there was a constant stream of patients. After an hour, she invites me into her office, we sit down and she fills me in on her journey.
“I graduated with Bachelor of Medical Sciences from the University of St Andrews, Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from University of Manchester, Masters of Science in Public Health from Imperial College London.
“I completed my Doctorate of Medicine (research) from Imperial College London, passed the membership exam of the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologist UK, and became an accredited Subspecialist in the field of Maternal and Fetal Medicine which focuses on complex problems during pregnancy, diseases of the unborn fetus and complicated childbirth,” says Dr Imelda.
She then trained to be a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in London. During that time she was the only doctor in Obstetrics & Gynaecology who obtained an award to become a part-time clinical lecturer at the Department of Public Health of University College London.
“My specialty is unique in that my expertise is a combination between public health and in Obstetrics & Gynaecology, with a special focus on prevention of problems during pregnancy and childbirth.”
Why do we even believe in myths?
“My experience as a medical student in the UK for six years, and working as a doctor in the UK for 17 years, have taught me that myths and folk tales are present even in developed countries and many people still believe in them.”
Take a quick look on social media, it’s filled with health products claiming to have miraculous cure all powers. They particularly prey on the elderly or the sick who are often swayed by the promise of quick recovery.
“This is why laws are created to protect the general public from fraud. Unfortunately, the difference between Malaysia and the developed world is how these laws are enforced to protect the public from fraud.
“When fraudulent products are not being banned quick enough, unethical sellers will use this opportunity to push sales of these products through illegal advertising, and misuse of testimonials to gain the confidence of consumers in their products. We need to, therefore, provide information to the general public on how to be a smart consumer.”
How did you become part of M3?
“I was invited by Medical Mythbusters Malaysia to become a member, after I begun posting about health education publicly in social media. Myths, no matter how weird they are, are only funny for as long as they do not cause harm to the public who wish to believe in them and practice them.
“Myths that cause harm to people need to be busted! A common belief is that drinking more than two cups of water per day after childbirth could cause vaginal leaking’ – this is only true if a women suffered the trauma of obstetric fistula during childbirth where there is a tear on the wall of the urinary bladder leaving a communication between the urinary bladder and the vagina. In the old days when women had no choice but to birth at home without Skilled Birth Attendants (SBA), obstetric fistulas were more common.”
There are still countries where women birth without Skilled Birth Attendants (in many parts of Africa) where obstetric fistula still occurs in 140,000 women per year. However, in Malaysia, this is no longer true because 99.4 per cent of births in Malaysia is with the presence of Skilled Birth Attendants, and obstetric fistula is now a very rare occurrence.
“Thus, this is a myth, it has become a traditional story or a folk tale, but a potentially harmful one as the woman who has just undergone childbirth needs adequate hydration to prevent venous thromboembolic disease, which is a known cause of maternal death in Malaysia.”
To doula or not?
Doulas are companions in labour meant to provide emotional and psychological support for women during labour and childbirth. Doulas are not formally trained healthcare professionals and cannot replace midwives.
Dr Imelda’s feelings about doulas are not a new thing. She was even featured on a programme alongside a doula.
“I have a passion in women’s’ health and issues surrounding pregnancy and childbirth have major effects on long-term women’s health. World Health Organisation have stated that for a safe birth, all births must be attended by ‘Skilled Birth Attendants’ (SBA) and doulas do not qualify as SBA.
“Couples who wish to have a doula should know that the role of a doula is to provide moral support during labour and childbirth, but doulas are not healthcare professionals and cannot give medical advice.
“Doulas are not ‘Skilled Birth Attendants’ and cannot deliver babies. It is against the law in Malaysia (1966 Midwifery Act) for doulas to deliver babies because they are not ‘Skilled Birth Attendants’.”
Now ladies and gentlemen, you have your answer.
Tanya Dr Imelda
“The idea behind ‘Tanya Dr Imelda’ show is to bring awareness on how to prevent diseases and when to seek the help of a medical doctor.
“We do this in Bahasa Malaysia
because some are less fluent in under-
standing medical jargons in the English language.
“Often, we get patients who aren’t diagnosed early so that they can get the correct treatment. This could have been prevented by general health education.”
What is your advice to readers?
“Avoid exposing your own health ailments to people you do not know on social media, and do not ask in social media about your health concerns. There are too many scammers out there who are actively scouting for vulnerable people.
“Instead, come and see a doctor formally in the outpatient clinic if they had concerns about their health. Their information is protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.”— The Health