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Call for women-only hospitals rejected

Doctors, activist defend medical cross-gender examination

Gulf News

Manama: Saudi doctors have rejected calls to set up hospitals exclusively for women, saying that the suggestion to rule out medical cross-gender examination was highly unpractical.

The call was issued by Saudi citizens who said that they wanted only women doctors to look after them whenever they needed to go to a hospital, local Arabic daily Al Sharq reported on Thursday.

“A hospital exclusively for women would give me the privacy I need,” Mariam Radhi Abdullah said. “Even my husband categorically refuses that a man examines me regardless whether it is an emergency case and he invariably looks for a female doctor even if it means going to another hospital,” she told the daily.

Hanan Al Abdullah said the character and nature of the Saudi society demanded that only women should examine or treat women. “The society is different from other communities and it looks at things from a different angle,” she said. “I myself refuse to be examined by a male doctor and I do push for setting up hospitals exclusively for women and operated by women,” she said.

Khalid Al Ghadhiya, a social worker, said that women’s hospitals would help meet the health needs of Saudi women in a much more comfortable setting. “Our women would not have to be examined by male strangers, particularly in the maternity departments,” he said. “Our women would be more open in their conversations and would feel at ease when they are examined by women. There are some countries that have applied the women’s only system, and it has worked,” he said.

However, Fatima Al Melhim, head of the radiology department at the King Fahd Hospital, said that she opposed segregation between male and female doctors. “A hospital is an integrated entity made up of administrative and medical staff and providing an adequate number of female doctors and staff is not possible,” she said.

“Saudi Arabia suffers from a shortage of Saudi medical staff, so there is no way to set up hospitals exclusively for women. A hospital is not just doctors. It is also nurses, technicians and other staff. Those who call for setting up health facilities exclusively for women are usually driven by religious considerations,” she said. Religious concerns are baseless since requests by doctors are usually fulfilled, she said.

“The only time when the gender factor is not really considered is in extreme emergency cases where the priority is saving the patient’s life.”

Dr Sulaiman Al Sulaiman, a consultant, said that there was no need to set up hospitals exclusively for women.

“The number of female medics in Saudi Arabia is low, just as is the case in many other advanced European countries such as Germany where women in maternity departments make up only 15 per cent of the total number of medical staff,” he said. “Medical services do not depend on the gender of the doctor but on his or her skills and competence and on providing adequate care for the patient. Segregating male and female doctors means that the performances and care quality will be affected,” he said.

Rights activist Fawzia Al Ayooni told Al Sharq that past experiences indicated that setting up hospitals exclusively for women would fail.

“It was applied by a private hospital and it failed because it is not viable economically,” she said. “It also means that a father cannot take his daughter, a brother cannot take his sister and a husband cannot take his wife to hospital,” she said.

Shaikh Malek Al Milad, a religious figure, said that medical cross gender examination was permissible in cases of emergency or when the doctor had outstanding qualifications.