International Women’s Day: Equal access to healthcare for all women

International Women’s Day: Equal access to healthcare for all women

This Sunday, 8 March, we celebrate International Women's Day.

International Women’s Day is a global event marking the celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – while also making a call to action for accelerating gender equality[1].

Equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a business issue. Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive.

This year, International Women’s Day is centered on the theme of ‘Each for Equal’. Equal pay, gender-equal workplaces and boardrooms, and equal access to healthcare.

Women make up half of the global population, however focus on the importance of women’s health has significantly lacked compared to men[2].

While global efforts to improve the health of women have increased over the decades, so too has the global burden of diseases, meaning we need an updated approach to healthcare.

This International Women’s Day we highlight the continued need for equal access to healthcare for all women, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Changes in the global burden of diseases

Global efforts to improve the health of women largely focus on improving sexual and reproductive health. While these efforts have seen major improvements in women’s health globally, they fail to account for the changes in the global burden of diseases.

Currently, the greatest burden of death and disability among women is attributed to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer[3]. Nearly 80 per cent of NCDs occur in LMICs, and it is particularly in these parts of the world where NCDs are rapidly replacing infectious diseases, maternal and child conditions as the leading cause of death and disabilities[4].

To improve the health of women most efficiently, adequate resources need to be allocated to the prevention, management and treatment of NCDs in women. Such an approach could reduce NCDs’ burden among women and has the potential to improve women’s sexual and reproductive health, which commonly shares similar behavioural, biological, social and cultural risk factors.

Sociocultural factors

Gender disparities have a direct impact on nearly every aspect of women’s lives, including health. While improving women’s health is a challenge everywhere around the world, it is a matter of vital importance for women in LMICs. This is because in many societies, women are disadvantaged by discrimination rooted in sociocultural factors. From difficulty in accessing reliable diagnoses or appropriate care, to a lack of proper equipment or medication, the problems facing healthcare in LIMCs are multi-faceted.

However, there are also more deep-seated factors underlying these problems. For instance, the status of women (i.e., the political, educational, cultural roles they play in society) has a direct impact on their access to healthcare[5]. This can due to a variety of reasons, including; lower income than men, complex family responsibilities, dependence on another family member or a lack of access to education[6].

For all these reasons (and more), women in developing nations often lack basic healthcare and face life-threatening health issues, such as cervical cancer[7], which is preventable in most developed countries.

In addition, a lack of information – reinforced by gender discriminatory norms – can strip women of the power they should have over their own bodies, putting them at greater risk of sexual and reproductive issues such as, HPV which may lead to cervical cancer[8].

The female health agenda remains unfinished and sustained efforts and commitment are required to resolve. Given more women now die annually from NCDs than from any other cause, we need to call on greater awareness and action on women’s health in LIMCs[9].

The key to improving cervical cancer rates in LMICs

With regular screening, cervical cancer can be preventable. However, this lack of access to screening demonstrates the inequities of today’s world.

Due to poverty, cervical screening is limited or non-existent in many LMICs and recommended treatments for cervical cancer are not readily available. Efforts are slowly being made to find a screening solution that overcomes the barriers faced by LMICs.

TruScreen is striving to play a part in improving the wellness of women in LMICs and its lead device is one of the few real-time screening methods that “screen and treat”.

Despite considerable progress in the past decades, societies continue to fail to meet the healthcare needs of women at key moments in their lives. Thankfully, we have seen developments in this recently, with the World Health Organisation announcing it will put forward a Draft Strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer in May 2020.