An Interview with Dr. Manjula Anagani

-Interview by: Vaishnavi K.
Second Year, Sapthagiri Institute of Medical Science and Research Centre, Bangalore

Manali Sarkar
Final Year, MGM Medical College, Navi Mumbai

Ananya Joshi
Final Year, Goa Medical College

Introduction by Dr. Anjali Mediboina

The MSFC (Medical Students For Choice) is an organization that aims to provide and ensure reproductive healthcare is accessible to all. The organization is all over the world, in the form of units, family planning education, conferences and even offer training opportunities for students in USA and Canada.

A picture taken from one of the IUD Insertion workshops organized by the MSFC
One of the campaigns conducted by the AMSA-MSFC Unit in 2021

The Asian Medical Students’ Organization (AMSA), India Chapter has an MSFC Unit, under which we conducted workshops, organized campaigns and held academic events related to Sexual and Reproductive Health. During our tenure, my unit-mates Vaishnavi, Manali and Ananya had the amazing opportunity to talk with Dr. Manjula Anagani.

Dr. Anagani has pioneered new laparoscopic techniques and contributed work on primary amenorrhea , stem cell procedures for endometrial regeneration, and a technique of creating a neovagina In 2015, she was awarded the Padma Shri, Indian Affairs Indian of the Year award at the 2016 India leadership conclave in Mumbai. That same year, she also was recognized by the Guinness world record  for removing the largest number of uterine fibroids in a single operation.

To add to her achievements Dr. Anagani has also co-founded a non governmental organization named Pratyusha to campaign for women’s health , a TEDx speaker, youtuber and an influencer making history in the field of genecology. Known for her drive to make a change in the field,  Dr. Manjula’s name is taken with great respect among patients as well as the medical fraternity.

Where did your interest in Medicine in general begin? What made you take up OBGYN  in particular and focus on sexual health?

In my third grade I got curious about how the body works and kept bombarding my teacher with questions. It was my father’s interest in me taking sciences and the fact that we had no doctor in the family which drew me to this field. My added passion for drawing diagrams in biology and my teachers’ encouragement made me dream of becoming a surgeon. I was a recipient of the Chief Minister’s scholarship for academic excellence in tenth grade and was ranked 58th in the Engineering Agricultural and Medical common entrance exam, and later joined Gandhi Medical college. Unfortunately, the idea of a surgeon being a man was quite prevalent during my time. During my internship, I would observe how magically the baby comes out of a woman and this made me decide to take up OBGYN. Minimally invasive surgery and contraceptive knowledge was less known during my time.

How was your experience being a Padma Shri Awardee and how did your life change after that? 

If I was told about receiving Padma Shri five years back, I wouldn’t have believed it. Receiving the Padma Shri made me believe in destiny and brought me immense joy. In mathematics 1 + 1 sums up to 2, but in medicine 1 +1 sums up to 3. The Padma Shri award came with a huge responsibility of spreading this message. It also helped me expand my social circle and be an influencer. The award fueled my passion to advocate about reproductive health and aided in the process of people taking menstrual health seriously!

The President, Shri Pranab Mukherjee presenting the Padma Shri Award to Dr. Manjula Anagani, at a Civil Investiture Ceremony, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on March 30, 2015.

How do you manage a hectic work life of an OBGYN, YouTuber and being active on social media?

Where there is will there is a way. Being vocal, punctual and having time management skills plays a very important role in balancing different areas of work. Building a team to work with makes any task easier and more efficient than doing it all on our own; the team here being the family and its cooperation and the people at work too. I would say that the art of parallel thinking is the key to managing work.

 As a part of the MSFC, our focus is mainly on Reproductive Health and Abortion Rights. How important do you think is it to know the right age and way to talk about sexual health?

Nowadays, there is a lot of information coming from many resources and people are being exposed to social media from a very young age. While social media no doubt plays a role in advocacy, I believe the right resource from which the information should be delivered is from a doctor.

Previously the hormone gush used to happen around the age 11-13 but it’s seen quite early these days. Before the change of feelings towards a person and the awareness of their own body starts is when they should be familiarized with menstrual health! I believe the right age is around 3 / 4 years. The right knowledge provided at the right time will give the understanding which reduces the risk of cancer and STDs. 

 Do you think the current sex education caters to the current sexually active adolescents and young adults, if not, what changes would you recommend?

False information given by parents during childhood is quite common in India. To change these the parents should be educated about the right information and about the stigma related to it. I believe that sex education plays a very important role in the school’s curriculum both in rural and urban areas, as certain places bans any kind of talk about sexual health. Both the schools and the government should go hand in hand when in comes to spreading awareness about sexual health.

I remember during one of my field visits, a 5th grade kid asked the doctor about the two meaning of sex? One being the male/ female and the other which was left unsaid. This incident made me realize that slow and steady steps need to be taken to handle sex education in India.

Despite MTPs being legal in India, there are still many cases of people going to quacks and resorting to self medication for abortion. What do you think can be done about this?

MTPs are still being stigmatized in society. Many factors such as being in denial, many of the ‘what ifs’, lack of support and having the thought of being judged by the doctor stops these patients to approach doctors and ultimately resort to quacks and self medication. If MTPs are not done right it can lead to incomplete abortion causing pain and infertility. I firmly believe that proper awareness about MTPs and stoppage of the distribution of over the counter abortifacient drugs will help reduce the complication to a great extent.

 How can we as medical students help in creating awareness in our day to day life?

I expect medical students to start at the base- sensitize sexual health at home which includes parents, friends, family and peers. This would led to reducing in the misinformation spread through Chinese whisper (digital media , audio visual media and preachers)

 What common obstacles as a country we’ll face in the field of OB-GYN?

Lack of awareness i.e., huge difference between myths and facts, trust issues with doctor patient confidentiality have changed the way the people approach the doctors. I like using the word GOOGLE DOCTORS to give us an idea about how social media is hindering the doctor patient relationship. The doctor shouldn’t be chosen based on the stars we get online, which is quite common these days, but based on empathetic and sympathetic they are!

 Could you give a message to our readers

You choose the profession; the profession doesn’t choose you. Live your lives, believe in yourself , stick to ethics, maintain unity, never stop learning and teaching . “Publish and perish” is my one message I want to give every medical student.

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