Fatima Iqbal Riaz is a kidney transplant patient and a young advocate for kidney health from Lahore, Pakistan.
In the early 2008 Fatima felt rejected by society due to her weight, she was called “not marriage material” and found herself a victim of weight-stigmatization in her country.
Fatima explained: “Weight stigma is a pervasive and increasingly prevalent form of social discrimination in our society. We are taught from an early age that in order to be ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Acceptable’, we have to be slim”.
Like many young women, Fatima wanted to build a family and be accepted for who she was. But the pressure of her community to fit in the standards of beauty was immense and led Fatima to consult with a number of street doctors and local Hakims [practitioner of herbal medicine] to seek ways to lose weight. Fatima was risking her health to become “socially fit”; and in 2010 she fell unconscious and was rushed to a local hospital. After a number of tests it became clear that, due to unhealthy weight loss practices, her kidneys were failing. She was diagnosed with kidney failure, the diagnosis that changed her life.
Transplantation wasn’t an option for Fatima; she believed that her weight was already a problem and a surgical operation would bring her chances of happy marriage to the outmost low. According to Fatima, “Even a minor scar is enough for one to be rejected from a marriage proposal. And here we are talking about a major operation”. Once again, Fatima was held back by the society.
Lack of educational resources and limited knowledge with regard to transplantation practices leave many without so much needed organ transplants. Fatima was convinced that dialysis would keep her kidneys going and, despite how painful and uncomfortable the procedure was, it appeared to be the best solution at the time. After three years of dialysis and major life adjustments, she decided to look into the option of a transplant once again. Fatima had attended an awareness session, part of a bigger World Kidney Day event, at a local transplant centre in Lahore. That visit sparked interest and prompted her to learn more about kidney transplantation. As time went by, Fatima started to accept the idea of a transplant. She met a transplant doctor, who introduced her to patients who had had a similar operation and were fully recovered by the time of their meeting. Talking to patients, rather than doctors, gave her more reassurance and comfort until she decided to go forward with the operation.
While waiting for her operation, Fatima set up “Kidney Lounge”, a patient association targeting kidney patients and offering help: medical advice, educational materials, and financial assistance for those who cannot afford prescribed medicine and/or procedures. Fatima received her transplant in 2013 and since then she has been very active in becoming a voice for kidney patients and advocating policy changes, as well as dedicating her full time to raising awareness and fighting for her cause.
Fatima’s story is very indicative of gender inequality and consequences that women suffer across the world due to lack of education, social and religious hindrances and cultural misconceptions. For the 5th anniversary of Kidney Lounge, Fatima is working to promote official donor programs. Donating organs in Pakistan is still a lot harder than in other countries due to religious and cultural beliefs. Fatima is doing her best to educate her people and spread awareness through every channel she can.
World Kidney Day is aspiring to make a change for women all over the world by bringing awareness, highlighting health targets and identifying areas that are lacking in information and resources.
Want to know more about Fatima and Kidney Lounge? Look no further than her website https://www.kidneylounge.com and FB page https://www.facebook.com/kidneylounge/