Narrative Medicine and ONDA, together for the women’s health: interview with Doc. Merzagora

This month, we have the pleasure to host here an interview with the Doc. Francesca Merzagora, Founder and President of ONDA Association (the acronym of the Italian National Association for the Women’s Health). ONDA was founded in 2006, in collaboration with Prof. Costa and Prof. Corbellini, respectively the Director of the European School of Oncology, and the Director of Bioethics and Medicine History at La Sapienza University of Rome. The main mission of ONDA is to promote equality within the Italian society between men and women, also in the healthcare field.

1) As a first question, I kindly ask you, dear Doc. Merzagora, to introduce yourself to our readers, starting from your role in the ONDA Foundation to the main objectives that your Association promotes.

I founded ONDA, the National Observatory on Women’s and Gender Health, in 2006 with two colleagues, Prof. Gilberto Corbellini and Dr. Alberto Costa after a ten-year experience of leading Europa Donna (the Movement for the fight against breast cancer) in Italy. ONDA, which in 2018 became a Foundation, deals with all gender health issues (female and, since last year, also male) in all life cycles. Gender medicine is an approach to the healthcare that is now almost consolidated in various areas: hospital (the ONDA initiative of ‘Pink Stickers’ certificating the responsibility of the Hospitals to gender medicine is a testimony to this), academic (with the first chair in Italy on gender medicine covered by Prof. Baggio), legislative (with the first law on this subject), pharmacological (women are the main users of drugs in Italy and it is necessary to include them in trials on an equal footing with men), but also corporate (specific attention to gender in health represents an improvement in corporate welfare).

The tools used by ONDA to raise awareness of diseases with a greater epidemiological impact vary from lobbying with a group of parliamentarians, from writing popular and more scientific texts, to carrying out cognitive surveys and in-depth volumes, to the creation of communication campaigns and activities on social issues.

Every year, a National Congress discusses the main issues of women’s health: in October 2019, young people’s health will be discussed.

2) As part of its projects to raise awareness of women’s health, the ONDA Foundation is engaged in research and initiatives on the issue of depression, as a predominantly female disease both in the general population and in its forms more strictly linked to specific experiences such as post-partum depression. Can you briefly describe ONDA’s commitment in this regard?

Health is one of the focuses of ONDA’s activity: during these years we have dealt with depression, postpartum depression, schizophrenic psychosis, sleep problems, collecting a lot of data and writing various publications. In particular, there is a strong commitment to depression, which according to the WHO is destined to become the most widespread chronic disease by 2030, also due to the aging of the population and a lifestyle that increasingly requires frequent and rapid adaptations at the expense of maintaining physiological rhythms. The stigma that still hovers over mental health and depression in particular needs to be vigorously addressed in order to bring the population closer to diagnosis and treatment at an early stage. Each on the occasion of the day of October 10 dedicated to mental health, Onda organizes an Open Day in its hospitals with the Pink Stamps and other mental health departments with the intent to promote widespread information on the main mental disorders.

On the institutional front, in November 2010, we witnessed the approval of motion on depression and collaborated with WHO, some Members of Parliament and the Lombardy Region also on the front of post-partum depression. A project “Un sorriso per le mamme” (a smile for mothers) was carried out (which, among other activities, led to the creation of a dedicated website and a network of territorial centers of excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of perinatal psychopathology) and a technical table was set up which produced a document of Good Clinical practice.

3) How does the project of Narrative Medicine ‘Out of the Blue‘, sponsored by Fondazione ISTUD, fit in with this situation?

Over the years, we have realized that it is increasingly necessary to tackle a complex phenomenon such as depression with all the tools at our disposal. Narrative medicine is a particularly interesting approach because, thanks to the narration, it is able to give a picture of the “richest” pathology in which different experiences, needs, and points of view are represented. Narrative medicine is a precious tool to improve the effectiveness of the doctor-patient relationship necessary to build a personalized and effective treatment path.

4) Which aspects of the project were decisive in the decision to sponsor this type of project?

The scientific approach proposed by the project, the involvement of many centers in Italy, and the great interest we have in depression, convinced us to sponsor the project.

It will be very interesting to understand what will emerge from the collected writings and it will be very important to disseminate as much as possible the results of the project in the belief that there is still much to do to improve knowledge of the disease and to overcome the stigma.


Silvia Napolitano

Researcher at Healthcare Area of ISTUD Foundation. Master degree in Industrial Biotechnology at University of Milano-Bicocca, Post-graduate ‘Scienziati in Azienda’ at ISTUD Foundation. Expert in Medical Writing, especially in areas as the qualitative research and Narrative Medicine. She contributes to research and educational projects with the aim of improving the quality of life and quality of care of patients with chronicle or genetic diseases.

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