Women's Health

The Importance of Women's Health
“A woman's health is her total well-being, not determined solely by biological factors and reproduction, but also by effects of work load, nutrition, stress, war and migration, among others” (van der Kwaak, 1991).1
 
Women's health issues have attained higher international visibility and renewed political commitment in recent decades. While targeted policies and programs have enabled women to lead healthier lives, significant gender-based health disparities remain in many countries. With limited access to education or employment, high illiteracy rates and increasing poverty levels are making health improvements for women exceedingly difficult.

Health-related challenges continue. Many of the modest gains in women's health realized in recent decades are now threatened or have been reversed due to war, economic instability and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Basic health care, family planning and obstetric services are essential for women – yet they remain unavailable to millions. Gender-equitable approaches to health are needed to enable women's full participation in the planning and delivery of health services.

The health of families and communities are tied to the health of women – the illness or death of a woman has serious and far-reaching consequences for the health of her children, family and community.

The slogan, “Healthy Women, Healthy World” embodies the fact that as custodians of family health, women play a critical role in maintaining the health and well being of their communities.2
  • Maternal conditions are leading causes of death and disability among women.3 More than 99 percent of the estimated 536,000 maternal deaths each year occur in the developing world.4
  • Every year, about 10 million women endure life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth, sometimes leading to long term disability.5, 6
  • Globally, women comprise half of the adults living with HIV/AIDS – in sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion rises to 61 percent.7 A woman affected by HIV/AIDS is plunged further into poverty, losing the ability to provide for herself and her children.
  • Early and unwanted childbearing, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy-related illnesses and deaths account for a significant proportion of the burden of illness experienced by women – especially in low-income countries.8
  • Nearly all maternal deaths are preventable through timely prenatal and postnatal care, skilled birth attendance during delivery and the availability of emergency care to deal with complications. The health benefits of spacing and limiting births for mothers and children with family planning services are well known.
  • Millennium Development Goal 5 focuses on reducing the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015 and ensuring universal access to reproductive health by 2015.9
  • International funding from public and private donors and other non-governmental organizations accounts for only 15 percent of the expenditures on reproductive health and family planning activities in developing countries.10 The majority of spending comes from within the countries themselves, with more than half coming from consumers' pockets.