Turkish Cypriot medical researcher, epidemiologist and public health specialist Dr Nilufer Rahmioglu Ramiz is raising funds for a project to help diagnose and record the number of women in the TRNC who suffer from endometriosis as part of a wider study to identify the causes of the disease. By Yasemin Gulpinar.

A PROJECT to help diagnose and record the number of women in the TRNC who suffer from endometriosis, and to help identify causes of the disease, is to be launched in 2017. Endometriosis affects up to 10 per cent of all women of child-bearing age around the world and is caused when tissue which normally grows inside the uterus grows outside, leading to severe pelvic pain and infertility if not treated.

The project to counter the disease in the TRNC is the brainchild of Turkish Cypriot medical researcher, epidemiologist and public health specialist Dr. Nilufer Rahmioglu Ramiz, a 31-year-old mother of one. Currently working as a research fellow at Oxford University, Dr. Rahmioglu Ramiz was previously involved in investigating the biology of cancer in the US. She then took part in research projects funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency and developed an interest in population-based patterns and causes of diseases while studying for her master’s degree. She has also worked as a consultant for the Cyprus Turkish Medical Association. While completing her PhD in epidemiology at King’s College, London, she met Professor Krina Zondervan, with whom she has been working since 2011 to research underlying genetic and environmental factors of endometriosis.

The causes of the disease are now to be investigated by Dr. Rahmioglu Ramiz through a population-based research project in the TRNC which will provide reliable data for the first time in the country, so improving the chances of more effective treatment for more women. The project, under the auspices of the Cyprus Women’s Health Research Initiative (COHERE), is to be carried out through a survey involving 10 per cent of women aged 18-50 who live in the TRNC, including non-Turkish Cypriots, which will then be analysed by teams in the UK and the TRNC. Four UK based senior scientists and doctors from Oxford are in one team, along with a health economist from the London School of Economics, a senior scientist from the Harvard School of Public Health and a gynaecologist from the University of Central London. A team will also be established in the TRNC consisting of PhD students who will be trained at Oxford University for a week, and a second team of up to five who will collect data.

Dr. Rahmioglu Ramiz raised £5,500 to establish COHERE when she collected sponsorship money by running 5km during the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’s charity run in Helsinki, Finland, in July. Describing how she is working to raise more funds to conduct the study, and attending meetings with government officials and non-governmental organisations to gain support for her project, she said:

“It will provide the first systematically collected population health data for North Cyprus and contribute to the understanding of regional women’s health and illness patterns, along with the personal, social and economic effects of the disease. It will demonstrate the importance of such data collection and promote evidence-based medicines and the development of fact-based health strategies in the region where disease rates have not been studied at all. Data could also be generated relating to environmental or lifestyle factors resulting in an increase of the disease. Besides local benefits, it will also provide the basis for an eastern Mediterranean women’s health resource to bring recognition to the TRNC in the international academic arena.”

Dr. Rahmioglu Ramiz said data collected from the first stage of the project would be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal and presented at international reproductive health congresses in Europe and the US. She said a future project in the TRNC would involve urging the government to work on a data-driven health strategy to help prevent women’s cancers.

Government officials have been briefed about the project to gather statistical information about endometriosis for the first time in the TRNC and so provide a basis for more effective future treatment. Meetings have been held with the Health Ministry, parliamentary speaker Sibel Siber, Ombudsman Emine Dizdarlı and head of the Cyprus Turkish Medical Association, Filiz Besim.

Expressing her support for the project, Dr. Siber said:

“This is a women’s disease that causes trouble throughout their lives and it is a brilliant idea to target North Cyprus for a study because we lack statistical records. Having no database with figures for people with specific diseases is one of our biggest disadvantages, so this study will provide us with accessible information to enable further investigations.It will make it easier for us to fight against the illness and it will be easier to plan ahead, knowing how many people at what ages and from which region are suffering. Parliament is supporting the project and congratulates Dr. Rahmioglu Ramiz on her initiative.”

Dr. Besim told Cyprus Today:

“We approved the project as soon as we were approached for support because studies of this type are very important but also very rare in our country. The epidemiological scanning methodology was very well thought out and the association always supports work which results in such valuable statistical data.”