Unveil vagina’s microworld!
by Monica Ticlla Ccenhua, Sonja Merten, and Ethel Mendocilla Sato
What do you know about your vagina’s microbiome?
STIGMAS and TABOOS make us feel uncomfortable, afraid, and even ashamed when using the word vagina. Worst of all, we, women, often worry about our vaginal health, whether it is about odour, itching, bleeding, or pain; we fear asking about it. Therefore, out of fear, we might have left our helpless vagina untreated hoping the discomfort goes away on its own. On the other hand, we might have blamed our hygiene and started practising invasive and frequent washings. Unknowingly, we were making things worse by damaging our delicate vaginal microbiome. Vaginal microbiome? This is likely a new term for you; it refers to the billions of microorganisms living in every healthy vagina.
Not knowing about our vaginal microbiome is understandable, as even scientists are just starting to study it. But so far, their findings are astonishing: it turns out the vaginal microbiome might prevent infections, including those transmitted sexually, and likely have a role in fertility, pregnancy, and gynaecological cancers. There is still so much more to discover about the vaginal microbiome, and women are the ones to lead these discoveries.
So, how can we address the taboo around our most intimate self: the vagina and its microbiome?
The Marie Project
WE ARE Sonja Merten, Monica Ticlla Ccenhua, and Ethel Mendocilla Sato, researchers in Switzerland. We believe citizens and scientists can team up and generate knowledge to free our vaginas from stigmas and taboos.
OUR GOAL is to run the Marie project, a Swiss citizen science study with societal and scientific objectives. First, we want to raise public awareness about the importance of vaginal microbes in women’s sexual and reproductive health. Second, as scientists, we want to learn about the vaginal microbial diversity across Switzerland and the factors that influence this diversity.
THE STRATEGY starts with giving women and those who own a vagina the opportunity to speak openly and let us know their concerns about their health, including their vaginal health. With this input, we will design a health questionnaire for a nationwide survey that will help our society see which misconceptions or taboos surround the health of those owning a vagina in Switzerland. In the next phase, our brave participants will meet their unique and personal vaginal microbiome. We hope that from there, we can start scientific and social conversations about what influences vaginal health while driving attention to our intimate guardians, the vaginal microbiome. OUR KEY TO SUCCESS lies in our strategic partnerships. The project will be hosted by the Gender & Health unit of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.
We also joined forces with the scientists behind the current most comprehensive study of the vaginal microbiome, the Isala project. Isala is our leading example of vaginal microbiome health research involving a multi-stakeholder community. Joining forces with the Isala initiative creates a fantastic opportunity for setting up a citizen science-based sisterhood of vaginal microbiome studies. Our shared dream is that we can attract collaborations around the world to make a massive impact.
Furthermore, we also built a multi-disciplinary local team of Swiss experts on citizen science, health data protection, and state-of-the-art technologies for identifying microbial DNA.
YOU CAN BE PART OF IT, first with your financial support, then by spreading the word, and if you own a vagina, by participating in the Marie study once it launches.
If 1,000 backers of all ages, living in Switzerland, give us CHF 150.- we will be able to launch a nationwide survey on vaginal health. If we raise another CHF 200,000.- we will already be able to collect 500 vaginal swabs and analyse their microbial DNA.
OUR DREAM is to help our society rise to a level where we are not ashamed of the word vagina and give vaginas the care they deserve!
Help us to know more about the Swiss vaginal microbiome
Women’s health and well-being have usually been regarded as a niche area; however, roughly 50% of the world’s population are women.
In the Human Microbiome field, scientists study the microorganisms living in and on our bodies. Between 1956 and 2020, the number of scientific publications on this subject goes up to a total of 84,000. Surprisingly, only 3 % of them are related to the vaginal microbiome.
What about Switzerland’s contribution to our knowledge of the vaginal microbiome?
Switzerland ranked as the most innovative country in 2021. However, the country remains in the shadows when it comes to vaginal health research! How so? Switzerland does not have a single research group dedicated to investigating the vaginal microbiome. This means the country doesn’t spend academic funding on a topic much needed for innovation in women’s healthcare.
This could explain why little is known about:
- How the vaginal microbial communities are settled and preserved across the woman’s lifespan and
- The roles robust vaginal microbial ecosystems achieve.
This knowledge gap represents a pressing issue to better understand the identity and diversity of the vaginal microbes. Thus, it has slowed down the development of efficient and targeted approaches to improve women’s health and disease prevention.
Your support is crucial to attaining the Marie project objectives in the near future! First, we want to address the taboo and stigma stopping us from confidently talking about our vaginal health concerns. With your help, we will elaborate a nationwide health survey in Switzerland, with the following activities:
- Build up a website in at least three official languages (German, French, and English) to gain public visibility.
- Form a group of early adopters. With them, we will gather common sexual and reproductive health concerns for women in Switzerland.
- Elaborate and tailor a health survey to the needs of the women community in Switzerland, thanks to the early adopters’ contribution.
Your generous contributions will help us lay the foundations for launching the health survey across Switzerland. Plus, implementing private at-home vaginal sampling to screen our vaginal microbiome. Ultimately, your contribution will support Marie’s main goal. That is, gaining understanding of how Switzerland’s diverse female population, represented by no less than 200 nationalities, and differences in their lifestyle influence the vaginal microbiome. Our objective is to reach as many vaginas as possible. For these activities, we will apply for additional funding.
We want you to be part of our journey and for that reason, we will provide you with updates regarding our progress.
The Marie project will contribute to achieving two Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. Specifically, this study will address SDG 3: Good health & well-being and SDG 5: Gender equality.