Understanding that fibroids can impact quality of life and fertility of women, Benjamin Oluwatosin Olowojebutu, the executive director and founder of the Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation (BOF) speak on empowering women with the knowledge and resources they need to make informed choices about their fibroid care in this interview with Anthonia Obokoh. He also spoke on how BOF has been providing free fibroid surgeries for Nigerian women. Excerpts:

By way of introduction, kindly tell us about yourself?

My name is Dr. Benjamin Oluwatosin Olowojebutu, and I am the executive director and founder of the Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation (BOF). Our journey began in 2016 and was officially inaugurated in July 2018. Since then, we’ve conducted around 10,000 free surgeries in 17 states across Nigeria, extending a helping hand to those in need and bringing hope and life to their lives. We’re proud to say that we are turning love into action, with three centres in Lagos and an ambition to expand our reach even further through partnerships with organisations that share our mission.

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What are Fibroids?

Fibroids are non-cancerous benign tumours that affect women, primarily in the uterus. They come in various sizes and positions within the womb. Their size can range from as small as a garden egg to as large as a watermelon. The specific position of fibroids can lead to different symptoms, such as submucosal, pedunculated, intramural, cervical, or subserosal fibroids. These growths can cause complications like heavy bleeding (Menorrhagia), severe menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea), pain during intercourse, and an increase in the number of menstrual days. In some cases, fibroids can even affect other organs in the body, leading to complications like intestinal obstructions and acute kidney injuries. Early detection through medical consultation and proper diagnosis is crucial for prevention.

You recently helped a woman with fibroids. Could you tell us about her case and her chances?

A few weeks ago, on the 4th of October, I came across a viral video of a woman named Shikemi, who had been living with fibroids for about 15 years. Her condition was severe, and it touched many people who tagged us on social media, calling for help. We reached out to Shikemi and conducted a thorough evaluation. Her condition was critical, with a massive fibroid that weighed 9.9 kilograms, equivalent to the size of a one-year-old baby or five children in her womb.

Despite the daunting challenge, we embarked on the surgery with faith, prayers, and determination. By the grace of God, we successfully removed the fibroid, changing Shikemi’s life for the better. She’s now in good health, has come for follow-up appointments, and is excited about the future. We are delighted to have given her a new lease on life, offering her the hope of building a family and pursuing her dreams.

How can women find out they have fibroids, and why should they be aware of this condition?

Women should be alert to the possibility of fibroids if they experience changes in their menstrual cycles. If menstruation lasts longer than the usual three to four days and extends to seven to ten days, or if they notice a significant increase in clothing size that isn’t due to pregnancy, they should seek medical attention. Painful and heavy menstrual flows should also be a red flag. Fibroids are one of the leading causes of infertility because they can block the womb, making it challenging for sperm to reach the egg. Women experiencing primary or secondary infertility should also consider fibroids as a potential cause.

It’s essential for women, particularly in Africa, to be proactive about their health, not only for their appearance but to prevent hormonal complications that fibroids can bring.

Are fibroids hormonal or genetic, and why are they more common in African women?

Fibroids appear to have a genetic predisposition, and they are more prevalent in African populations. The exact reasons for their prevalence in African and African-American women are not entirely clear. It’s a phenomenon that researchers are still studying, but it seems to be a genetic and familial trait that has been more pronounced in people of African descent.

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Are there any lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of developing fibroids in women?

Lifestyle factors can indeed contribute to the risk of developing fibroids. Obesity and a diet high in red meat have been associated with a higher risk. Red meat contains certain compounds that may be linked to uterine fibroids. Additionally, consuming highly processed and refined foods, like those rich in flours, can also increase the likelihood of fibroid development. Keeping the womb active and engaged through regular sexual activity and early reproduction can help prevent fibroids from occupying the uterine space.

At what age should women be cautious about developing fibroids?

In recent times, we’ve observed fibroids in younger women, as early as 22 to 25 years old. Previously, the condition was more commonly seen in women over 30. It’s crucial for women to be vigilant about their health and diet from a young age, not only to manage their appearance but also to prevent hormonal complications that fibroids can bring.

What new treatments are available for uterine fibroids?

There are several treatment options for uterine fibroids. These include Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) for those who no longer wish to have children or are approaching menopause. Myomectomy, which involves surgically removing the fibroids, is a common approach. Hysteroscopy is suitable for small fibroids and is a minimally invasive procedure. High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) is another option, though it is less commonly used, and we have limited data on its effectiveness. Myomectomy and laparoscopy remain popular surgical methods.

Treatment costs can vary; in Lagos, it ranges from N500,000 to N2million. At BOFoundation, we offer discounts and free services to ensure accessibility to treatment.

Can herbal remedies and home treatments shrink fibroids?

No. Herbal remedies and home treatments cannot shrink fibroids. In fact, these remedies may do more harm than good, potentially affecting the liver, kidneys, and even causing fibroids to grow larger. Women should avoid relying on herbal remedies and seek proper medical care for fibroids.

Why do women often delay seeking treatment for fibroid symptoms?

Two primary factors contribute to women delaying treatment for fibroids: fear and financial constraints. The fear of losing their womb, not getting better, or even the fear of death can deter women from seeking early treatment. The high cost of medical care can also be a significant barrier. Many women, as a result, turn to herbal remedies, hoping for a more affordable solution.

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BOFoundation aims to dispel these fears and provide affordable and accessible surgical care, instilling faith and confidence in women. We encourage women to seek help promptly, as early intervention can make a significant difference.

What role can the government play in addressing the issue of fibroids?

The government can contribute significantly by making insurance coverage accessible and compulsory. Initiatives like the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) are steps in the right direction. Insurance should be affordable and responsive, benefiting both patients and medical practitioners to improve healthcare outcomes. The government should also invest in public awareness and advocacy programs to encourage early treatment for uterine fibroids, helping women access care and support when needed.