Taking the shame out of STDs
Award-winning Dewsbury doctor continues to break down BME barriers
When 44-year-old Safia Jabeen arrived in the UK from Pakistan in 2005, she probably didn’t realise the huge impact she would have on the health of the nation’s bedrooms.
After training as a doctor in her home country, Safia began work initially in gynaecology in Dewsbury.
However, after working in various clinics at the start of her career, she noticed that there was a distinct lack of Asian women who came forward with sexual health problems at her clinic.
Despite already completing over five years of training in her field, she took the decision to retrain in sexual health in aid of women she had spoke to in the UK.
“When I was treating them for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), I realised they had no idea what I was talking about,” Safia said. “I came to realise that there were some major reasons behind this.
“Back in Pakistan, there aren’t any specialist clinics and the reason for that is because it’s a big taboo over there and sex is seen as being extremely private.
“You can’t open a sexual health service over there, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get checked. Language is also a big barrier too.”
Being the determined and dedicated doctor that she is, Safia immediately decided to do something about it.
“I realised that we were welcoming many Asians to our clinics here, but they were mostly men. Even when the women came with their husbands, they didn’t realise why they were getting treated.”
Safia thought she had better do some community work to gain trust in the community.
“When I started going out, it wasn’t easy, there was a lot of resistance,” she admitted.
“I had to approach these women in public places that they had chosen to gather for other reasons, such as social meeting points. It was here that I began to breach the topic of STDs and at first, they didn’t want to hear about it.”
After contacting local councillors, they advised Safia to arrange the event around ‘general health’ as to not unnecessarily startle the women.
Slowly over time, she began to build a rapport with the women, attending events as a guest and not a doctor, gaining an inside knowledge of the group’s mindset.
“I started off talking about general health and then gradually moved to the topic of gynaecological problems which then led me to the topic of sexual health,” she said. “It took me around three years to get to that point where people were listening.
“I spoke to hospitals and faith groups and also did a survey and one-two-one sessions in mosques and temples. I did this all in my private time.
“The majority of Asian women I talked to had no idea about Gonorrhoea and diseases like that. People were eager to receive the information and it helps that I can speak a number of languages including Urdu and Gujarati. Things moved quickly after that.”
With such a need for these services, Safia opened up her own clinic called Chandni Clinic - which means ‘moonlight’ in Urdu.
Women then started making appointments and were seen by a female doctor who could speak to them in their own language in a completely confidential environment.
“We initially started the clinic up for two days a week but there was such a good response that we had no choice but to turn it into a seven-day clinic,” she said. “Some women had been suffering for years. Some had come as far as Birmingham and Coventry, and beyond.
“I felt sorry that they had been in pain for so long when they could be simply treated. It then became word of mouth. It was established in 2013 and after six months, it was so well-known locally that we won a national award from Brook Sexual Health in 2014.”
Safia is confident that women have now started to accept that sexual health is important and they now visit her clinic openly.
Her work in Dewsbury hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Councils in Bradford, Leeds and even Ireland have approached her with the hope of working towards a similar plan for their regions – work Safia is eager to undertake.
At the end of the day, for the Dewsbury doc, it’s all about her patients.
She concluded: “I do all this for the women, so they know that they do not have to feel any shame.
“We see hundreds of women every year at the clinic now – that’s a huge deal.”
If you think you might need to talk confidentially about your sexual health, you do not need to be referred by a GP to attend Chandni clinic. To make an appointment, please call 01924 816120 or 01924 816121.