This past weekend, Chicago was the site of the 22nd Biennial Conference on Diseases of the Vulva and Vagina, hosted by the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disorders (ISSVD.) The mission and founding document of the society shed light on why so many vulvar and vaginal patients may be frustrated with lack of quality care. (The bold text below is my own emphasis.)
The mission of the ISSVD is
To promote international communication among gynecologists, pathologists, dermatologists, and related disciplines, and to establish international agreement on terminology and definitions of vulvovaginal diseases.
To promote clinical investigation, basic research, and dissemination of knowledge in this field.
The organization was founded in 1970 at the Federation of International Gynecologists and Obstetricians, with the first meeting being held in 1971 in San Francisco. At this first meeting, the founding fellows signed a resolution as to the reason for their existence:
WHEREAS, diseases affecting the human vulva are not confined to the limitations of a single medical specialty, nor to the borders of a single nation, and
WHEREAS, there apparently exists no generally agreed upon terminology regarding classification of vulvar disease, and
WHEREAS, the free and efficient communication of facts and ideas is necessary, if we are to apply the ever-advancing wave of medical knowledge to the field of vulvar disease,
WE, the undersigned, do hereby resolve that there is justification for an international society devoted to the subject of vulvar disease and do hereby constitute THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE STUDY OF VULVAR DISEASE.”
So...Western medicine dates back hundreds of years, yet a group dedicated to the study of the vulva - the avenue through which most of the world's population is born into the world - didn't start until 1970?! That's less than 50 years ago. Since part of the organization's mission is to agree on terminology, that means we are still finding the words to describe what is going on in women's bodies.
Is it any wonder that there is not sufficient knowledge to keep women's bodies healthy?
Today, the ISSVD only numbers about 300 people. That's 300 people, sprinkled in and amongst the 7 billion people on this planet. That's 300 vulvovaginal specialists for 3.5 BILLION women.
No wonder our lady parts don't get the care they deserve.
While I am saddened that attention to women's care is so behind, I am grateful to the pioneering doctors who are members and I am hopeful that their research will bring much-needed relief to so many women.
The ISSVD has kindly offered me a summary of this past weekend's proceedings, which I will excitedly report back to you when I get it!
PS Isn't the ISSVD's vulva-esque logo rockin' ? More on it's symbolism (besides the obvious) here.
PPS The founding members of the ISSVD were all men; not surprising, given how few women were doctors back in 1970. But still...cray-cray. Thank goodness that while in 1970 women made up 9% of medical school graduates, today that number is 48%. Hopefully this will translate into better care for women over time!