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Thousands of women are dying unnecessarily - WHO

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The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Thursday stressed the need for Member States to redouble efforts to improve the health of women in the Region, where thousands still die from avoidable health problems.

“Societies and health systems are not doing enough to protect women’s health and well-being,” Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, told the Organization's Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in a meeting held in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

“Moreover, gains like longer life expectancy, decline in total fertility, increase in maternal health service coverage and decrease in maternal mortality have been uneven across and within countries,” Dr. Shin said.

He called for renewed political commitment, stronger government leadership, and women-friendly health policies, systems and services to improve women’s health.

He stressed that among the key areas of concern were pregnancy and childbirth, where health risks account for a large share of women's morbidity and mortality, especially in low-income settings.

The Regional Committee for the Western Pacific meeting emphasized the importance of strengthening political commitment to improve the health of women from infancy to old age.

It also called on the development of a comprehensive range of services that are women friendly and responsive to women's health needs, he said.

”Women often live less healthy lives than men due to a combination of biological and societal factors, such as health risks involved in pregnancy and childbirth.

"Despite the availability of cost-effective interventions, the maternal mortality ratio remains unacceptably high in some countries in the Region, where the proportion of deliveries attended by skilled health personnel is less than 50 percent,” Dr. Shin said.

He said another significant issue is mental health, with women more likely than men to suffer from depression. Depressive disorders account for 42 percent of disability among women, compared with 29.3 percent among men.

Violence against women is also high, sometimes leading to mental health issues and other chronic health problems.

He added that full and timely immunizations, adequate nutrition and safe and nurturing environments can lay a strong foundation for girls during infancy and childhood.

Adolescence brings risks related to sex, tobacco and alcohol use, he said, adding that young women are more vulnerable than young men to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, as they may not be able to negotiate safe sex. They may also face unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

According to Dr. Shin, women's reproductive role, entailing pregnancy and childbirth, carries health risks, accounting for a large share of women's morbidity and mortality.

“Ensuring women's reproductive health is important for the health of future generations.

Women's exposure to lifestyle-related risk factors, and thus their burden of non-communicable diseases, has been increasing,” he said.

He said risk factors of non-communicable diseases, such as obesity and physical inactivity, are increasing in women that will lead to an increase in diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers.

Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women with an estimated 279 499 new cases in 2008. Cervical cancer, with an estimated 105 577 new cases in 2008, is an important concern as it is a preventable cancer.

Tobacco use among women in the Region is relatively low compared with use among men (5 percent versus 57 percent), but is likely to increase as women are increasingly targeted by aggressive tobacco marketing.

However, women's and girls exposure to second-hand smoke is high. Global Youth Tobacco Survey data shows that 50.6 percent of youth (students aged 13 to 15 years), including girls, are exposed to second-hand smoke at home and 64.1 percent in public places, Dr.Shin said.

He said that women outlive men, but often with poor quality of life during old age.

Community-based services and social and economic support are important for meeting the health needs of older women, but these are currently lacking in most developing countries in the Region.

"Evidence shows that in some settings, households favor boys over girls when investing in nutrition, education and health, especially when resources are scarce. Compared with men, women typically have lower education levels and less political and economic empowerment,”according to Dr. Shin.

He said that health systems are often not responsive to women's health needs, compounding the constraints placed by other forms of disadvantage—poverty, low education, political and economic disempowerment, and unequal gender roles.(PNA)




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