|HDD-(PHN)FLASH, newsletter on Population, Health and Nutrition of the Worldbank Human Development Department (WB)|
|PHNFLASH 2 December 6, 1993|
Despite their higher life expectancy, women suffer from more health problems than men. Beginning in infancy, females often receive less and lower-quality food and, when sick, receive treatment less often and at a more advanced stage of disease. Because of their reproductive function, women run risks of morbidity and mortality which men do not face. Their health is also adversely affected by gender-specific cultural practices, such as female circumcision and physical abuse.
The development response must be a life cycle approach to women's health. Policies and programs need to address both the biological and cultural determinants of women's poor health status. To address gender discrimination that begins in infancy and childhood, education, communications and health service outreach strategies will be needed to promote more equitable intra-household food allocation and health service use. To reduce the prevalence of early childbearing and improve adolescents' productive potential and reproductive health, strategies must be developed to target them with information and services on reproductive health, family planning and nutrition, as well as to expand educational opportunities and postpone age of marriage.
Innovative approaches are needed since traditional maternal and child health and family planning programs have had limited impact on adolescents. For all women of reproductive age, an integrated approach is necessary to ensure protection against unwanted pregnancy, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Appropriate food and micronutrient supplementation, prenatal health services, safe delivery and referral care are essential services for pregnant women. Detection and treatment of cervical cancer (and in some countries, breast cancer) will need to be considered as a priority for older women.
Improvements in women's health, while beneficial in their own right, contribute to development through improved productivity, reduced costs of medical care, and a healthier generation to follow. At the same time, development leads to improved health of women if the benefits of development are shared equitably.
Women comprise over one-half the human race. Investing in their health is an investment in development today; it is also an investment in the generations of tomorrow.
[Reprinted with the author's permission from Bank's World, Volume 12/Number 11, November 1993]