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close this bookHDD-(PHN)FLASH, newsletter on Population, Health and Nutrition of the Worldbank Human Development Department (WB)
close this folderPHNFLASH 1993
close this folderPHNFLASH 2 December 6, 1993
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentWomen's Health: A Neglected Development Issue
View the documentWomen's Status and Women's Health
View the documentThe Effects of Women's Ill Health on the Family, Community and Economy
View the documentCost-Effective Interventions to Improve Women's Health
View the documentWomen's Health and Development: Priorities for Action

Women's Health: A Neglected Development Issue

That women's health has received scant attention in development programs is reflected in high levels of persistent, but largely preventable, morbidity and mortality. In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman runs a one in 21 risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes during her lifetime; in Asia, it is one in 54; and in Latin America, it is one in 73. This compares to one in 10,000 in Northern Europe. Over 50 million women in developing countries are estimated to suffer acute pregnancy-related complications every year, and an uncounted number of women suffer pregnancy-related disabilities long after delivery. In addition, some of the deleterious effects of infectious diseases common to both men and women, such as malaria and hepatitis, are exacerbated by pregnancy.

The majority of women in the developing world go through pregnancy with no prenatal care and deliver without the assistance of appropriately trained health care providers. Most women of reproductive age also lack regular access to a range of modern methods of contraception. This frequently results in poorly timed or unwanted pregnancies [which] lead to between 36 and 53 million abortions around the world every year. Pregnancy termination under unsafe conditions is the cause of 115,000 to 200,000 maternal deaths each year. In Latin America, the complications of unsafe abortion are the main cause of death among women between the ages of 15 and 39 and absorb as much as 50 percent of some hospital maternity budgets.

In addition to problems associated with pregnancy, other conditions such as anemia, malnutrition, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and reproductive cancers impose a high toll on women's health and productivity. The number of women with HIV/AIDS is accelerating rapidly. In Africa alone, nearly four million adult women were already infected by the end of 1992.

Current estimates are that equal numbers of women and men are infected in Africa, and predictions suggest that more women than men will be infected by the end of the decade. Women with HIV risk passing the virus to their newborns, and they themselves usually die while their children are still growing up. Cervical cancer is the leading cause of death from all cancers (affecting both men and women) in developing countries-about half a million new cases are diagnosed each year worldwide, more than three-quarters of which are found in developing countries. Virtually only women are affected by breast cancer, yet it is the third most common cancer worldwide.

It is estimated that less than 20 percent of government health budgets are allotted to maternal and child health and family planning, and most of that amount is for child health. The resources allocated for women's health are not commensurate with the clearly demonstrated need.