Today marks the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. In 1987, on this day, members of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) met in Costa Rica to draw attention to women’s health. More than twenty years later, women’s health issues are still struggling to get the attention they deserve.
Despite a few key advances, notably the fifth of the eight Millennium Development Goals outlined in 2000 which sets a target to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters between 1990 and 2015 and to achieve universal access for women to reproductive health, women’s health issues remain largely off government and international agendas. The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded an average decline in maternal deaths of only 2.3%, per year between 1990 and 2008. This is a long way off from the 5.5% reduction needed per year to achieve the Millennium Development Goal.
Considering the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states “reproductive health problems remain the leading cause of ill health and death for women of childbearing age worldwide,” it is absolutely scandalous that not more is being done.
According to the UNFPA an estimated 250 million years of productive life are lost worldwide every year due to reproductive health problems. Poor women and girls are the most likely to be lost, particularly in developing countries where complications from pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of death of women and girls. For every woman who dies, approximately 20 more will suffer from serious injury or disability .
Of the half a million deaths as a result of complication from pregnancy and childbirth, 99% of them are in developing countries. Africa and Asia account for 95%. The worst part is that most of these deaths are needless. Hemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortion, and obstructed labour account for more than 80% of maternal deaths, all of which could be prevented if adequate treatment and supplies were available to pregnant women and girls.
The WHO states: “the vast majority of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the first month after delivery, or post-abortion care services and where permissible, safe abortion services.”
It is unlikely that the necessary supplies will reach remote African and Asian villages, the needed facilities built, and skilled birth attendants employed in the near future, as most governments are unwilling to allocate the meager financial resources they have to establishing a working health system, never mind one that provides for women’s reproductive health, after all, they are just women. Gender discrimination and gender inequality significantly hamper women’s health issues.
To surpass these obstacles family planning programs are effective. Family planning campaigns and programs are relatively cheap but still enormously inpactful in reducing maternal mortality rates. According to UNFPA statistics, 20-35% of maternal deaths could be prevented through effective family planning. Not only does family planning lead to lower maternal mortality it also reduces poverty, promotes economic growth, raises female productivity, and improves child survival. It can also reduce the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, both of which affect women disproportionately to men in developing countries.
Today, let’s put women’s reproductive health in the spotlight, and tomorrow, and the day after, and the next day, in fact, let’s just keep it there. It’s high time women’s health is given the attention it deserves.