‘Breast reduction surgery is not cosmetic’ – petition against medical aids

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The cost of big bras is punitive for women with abnormal cup sizes. Calls are growing for medical aids to foot the bill for breast reduction surgery.
The cost of big bras is punitive for women with abnormal cup sizes. Calls are growing for medical aids to foot the bill for breast reduction surgery.
Bobbi Lockyer/Refinery29 Australia/Getty

Men will stare at them. Amazed at the sheer size of your double D plus breasts. Some women will be envious – if only they had boobs as large as yours.

But for women suffering from conditions that result in unusual growth of breast tissue, such as gigantomastia, hypertrophy and macromastia, the pain of living with abnormally sized breasts – that just keep growing and growing – is as physical as it is psychological.

Medical aids in South Africa usually refuse to pay for breast reduction surgery, seeing it as "cosmetic", a situation that leaves many women having to pay about R60 000 out of pocket to get the operation. Then there are those who simply cannot afford to to do this. 

Things may change, however, if the powers that be heed the calls of thousands of women who has signed a petition asking South Africans to join forces with them. They want to compel medical aids to cover breast reduction surgeries.

Almost 50 000 South Africans have signed the petition started by Breast Reduction Support SA. It is addressed to the Council of Medical Aids and the department of health, saying breast reduction is not cosmetic.

Read more | My story | How my medical aid denied me my breast reduction but I got it done for free in France

“Large breasts can cause many health problems such as spinal cord damage, back pains, shoulder pains, bra scars or marks, skin irritation or rashes, breathing problems, numbness, fatigue, headaches or migraines. For many women battling with large breasts, breast reduction surgery will be needed to avoid any permanent physical disability, improved livelihoods and greater psychosocial comfort," the petition reads.

“Breast reduction surgery for large breasted women can improve their Health and Wellbeing in so many ways. Amongst the women we support, a few have successfully gotten the procedure and have shared their story in the group but majority are struggling to get the procedure because of their Medical Aid Schemes denying them, calling it cosmetic and exclusive even after proving beyond reason that their case is not cosmetic but medical issue they still boldly decline giving them no hope to get medical help."

Read more | They removed 3kgs from my boobs - Johannesburg woman on her R60k breast reduction

Some women have given up on wishing they can have breast reduction surgery. Their life is filled with headaches, back pain, trouble finding clothes the fit you properly and having to buy expensive bras in order to get proper support.

One such woman is Nwabisa Mpumza (32) who does not even have a medical aid and says if someone were to offer to pay for her surgery, should not even think twice about it.

“You do not know the struggle. I would have that surgery in a heartbeat if I could,” says Nwabisa who has a low-income job and says she cannot afford to pay cash for the reduction surgery.

“I do not have a chest area, it is all boobs,” she says, adding that she is a size 36G. She would be happy for a breast reduction that would take her to a 36D.

Even buying bras is a problem because she has to buy the really expensive ones. "I know people who can spend R150 on a bra, I can't. I have to buy proper ones that will not leave little bit hanging on the sides or overflowing on the top and those are expensive."

Buying clothes is also a challenge for her. “Sometimes you can find a nice top, but you cannot buy it because if it fits the arms properly, then it is too small for the boobs. If it fits the boobs properly, then it is too big for the arms and the rest of the body. It is even worse for me because I am short."

Nwabisa says her boobs are weighing her down and, even though she does not have confidence or self esteem issues, she gets irritated by men who are constantly staring at them.

“I think it is so disrespectful that instead of looking at your face while talking to you, men will stare at my boobs making stupid comments. It is really annoying.”

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