January 2017

Community-Minded Women’s Healthcare: From the Lowcountry to Tanzania

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

Dr. Joanne Price Williamson’s professional world has recently gotten a whole lot bigger. The Okatie-based obstetrician and gynecologist departed on November 3 for Tanzania in West Africa; joining the 501 ©(3) nonprofit, Mama Maisha project (meaning “Mother of Life” in Swahili) for ten days; providing essential prenatal care and delivering services, resources, and education intended to empower women to make wise decisions regarding family planning, healthy pregnancies, and safe deliveries.

With one woman dying every two minutes from pregnancy-related complications worldwide, and nearly 99 percent of those being in developing countries like Tanzania, Mama Maisha is working to improve those statistics. Price Williamson will be joining this Safe Motherhood Intervention Project, run by a friend and fellow physician, bringing supplies, contraceptives, and training people in the villages who are already attending births.

“Women have such a lack of access to prenatal care, and most women don’t deliver in hospitals; they deliver in their villages,” she said. “We’ll be doing education simulations on how to handle post partem hemorrhage with minimal resources. They’ll be getting an education on how to make it safer, like checking blood pressure; if it is really high, it may be worth the six-mile walk to deliver in a hospital. Anything we can do to save a mom.”

Mama Maisha is a perfect fit for Price Williamson’s community-minded sensibilities. “It’s nice to take care of women where you live,” she said. Whether empowering women to take care of each other in African villages thousands of miles away where resources are scarce, or taking care of women in her own community through her Provident OB/GYN Associates practice alongside her long-time nurse practitioner Rana Hildebrandt, it is something she looks forward to every day.

Providing medical care for women through all stages of life, from adolescence to post-menopause, Price Williamson said one of the most positive trends she sees is women wanting to be more engaged and have more control over their health and making health-related decisions. “During adolescence we’re talking about periods, STI (sexually transmitted infections) prevention, and safe sex practices,” she said. Another major focus during this life stage is the HPV virus vaccination—a condition that without vaccination can lead to pre-cancer or cancer of the cervix. “It’s much more effective as a preventative if it’s given before somebody becomes sexually active.”

A three-injection course that takes place over six months, Price Williamson said, “It’s important for people who have missed one or two of the three injections to know that we can still vaccinate them even if they didn’t have an opportunity to get their second dose on time.”

Adolescent stage visits with Price Williamson often include discussions about safety and nutrition, without necessarily having a pelvic exam. “We talk about things that don’t seem gynecological—things like wearing your seatbelt, because accidents are the biggest cause of death in adolescence,” she said. “Girls are still growing their skeletons until they are 21, so we’re making sure their diet and nutrition is good; making sure they’re building a healthy skeleton.”

During childbearing years, Price Williamson finds women are delaying pregnancy longer and benefit from hearing information related to contraception and decisions-making about pregnancy. “They should know that the risks for pregnancies do increase after the age of 35, including chromosomal abnormalities (i.e., Down syndrome), hypertensive problems, and gestational diabetes,” she said. Recommendations for women in this stage of life are similar for all stages: maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption to no more than three drinks per day. (More than three drinks increases breast cancer rates.) Further, supplementing 400 micrograms of folic acid daily is beneficial for anybody who could possibly become pregnant, she said.

For women who are pregnant, “There is big push for less medical intervention, less pain interventions during their pregnancy and delivery, and definitely the push for breast feeding,” Price Williamson said. “They really want to let things play out on their own as much as possible, and to be more engaged and have more control.”

Price Williamson sees the same trend of self-care and control continuing through the perimenopause/menopause stage of life. “However, there’s a big split in this group,” she said. “There are women who don’t want any medical intervention for irregular periods, hot flashes, all of those perimenopause and menopausal symptoms.

Then there are women who are very interested in replacing their hormones and using hormones to feel better and look better. I’m happy to support women in either direction.” She said there is a critical discussion to be had with your physician during this phase of life, because heart disease rates start to increase when women become menopausal. “We have some really good options if women want help through that transition period, with some really positive health benefits.”

Raising kindergarten-aged triplets, Price Williamson and her husband Ryan have woven their work and family into the fabric of the local community. Ryan’s recently opened restaurant FARM, is laser-focused on supporting community farms, including his own five-acre Williamson Lowcountry Farm, where much of the venue’s produce is grown. “I think what is really important about what they are focusing on is food and community,” she said.

“Not only who the patrons are in the restaurant, but who grows the food—who provides it.” The restaurant’s Sunday Supper Series is one of Price Williamson’s favorite community happenings. “They highlight a local vendor. They had a Latin theme last night. One of their Charleston vendors makes these amazing tortillas.”

Price Williamson appreciates the way she sees her professional and personal life expanding and evolving into a place where community, whether in Tanzania or in the Lowcountry, is her focal point. “I love living here. It’s nice to take care of women through the adolescent stage and then when they become new moms. I kind of look forward to seeing how that grows.”

The Provident OB/GYN Associates offices are located at Memorial Health University Physicians – Legacy Center, 14 Okatie Center Boulevard South, Suite 101, Okatie. For more information or to make an appointment, please call (843) 836-3800 or go to providentobgyn.memorialhealth.com. For more information about Mama Maisha, please visit mamamaisha.org.

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