Penn Nursing

Progress at Snail’s Pace since Beijing

In Women's Health on May 3, 2010 at 11:50 am

Melanne Verveer, the U.S. Ambassador at large for global women’s issues at the Department of State, delivered a sobering message on the progress of women’s health at the Penn-ICOWHI’s groundbreaking 18th Conference April 7-10 in Philadelphia.

There have been few advances in making women’s health worldwide since the 1995 international conference on women’s issues in Beijing, she said.

“The progress since Beijing on women’s health has not been as significant as other areas,” said Verveer who delayed an overseas trip to attend the conference as the keynote speaker.

Among the alarming statistics she cited:

  • AIDs remains the leading cause of death among women age 15-44 worldwide. “Today the face of AIDs is the face of a woman,” she said.
  • Unacceptable high rate of maternal death linked to early forced marriages, lack of education, lack of access to health services.
  • Adolescent girls are the most vulnerable. They represent high risk for early pregnancy, birth rate highest among them.
  • A woman in Africa has a 1 in 26 chance of dying in childbirth; in developing nations, it is 1 in 7,500.
  • More than 500,000 women worldwide die in childbirth every year.

But there is good news, too.

  • The prevention of mother to child HIV transmission is increasing dramatically because of new drugs.
  • The age of marriage has been raised around the world.
  • More girls are in school.
  • Violence against women is being criminalized in many countries.

Nevertheless, Verveer said there is plenty of work to do to make the lives of women and girls better, increase their access to health care and expand their life expectancies.

“When women and girls have access to health care services, they are valued more, they are educated. They are likely to have smaller families,” she said. “The most effective development investments that can be made are those made for women.”

Improving access to health care for women improves the family, the community and a nation’s productivity, she added.

“Our work is far from done,” she said. “Women’s rights are human rights, and we cannot settle for anything less.”

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Women’s Health in the Urban Community: NIH Perspective

In Women's Health on May 3, 2010 at 11:47 am

Making women’s health a priority doesn’t start in the ghettos and slums of urban America or around the world. It starts at the research level, according to Dr. Vivian W. Pinn, associate director for research on women’s health at the National Institutes of Health.

She spoke at the Penn-ICOWHI 18th Conference April 7-10 in Philadelphia on the importance of paying attention to gender differences in research.

It is important to focus on women’s health beyond the reproductive years and to look at women’s health over their lifespan. It’s essential to look at disparities among different populations to really make an impact on women’s health, she said in her talk.

Some of the simplest problems should be focused on. For example, how do lifestyle factors expose women to more diseases? Do women get more chronic diseases if they cook on open fireplaces indoors?

She also talked about reversing the brain drain of scientists who come to the United States and other western nations to study and develop their own expertise. She emphasized the importance of encouraging these experts to return to their own communities to work.

Kate Kinslow, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Hospital, introduced Dr. Pinn at the session underscoring the importance research has in helping lift women’s health out of the backwaters.

“Half of our population cannot be left behind,” Kinslow said.

Women and Health: A Comprehensive Focus for Global Health

In Women's Health on May 3, 2010 at 11:45 am

Worldwide urbanization provides special challenges for the health of women around the world, Julio Frenk, the dean of the School of Public Health at Harvard told Penn-ICOWHI 18th Conference April 7-10 in Philadelphia.

Some of the most pressing challenges for health officials involve women’s health and cities, and this is a challenge that must be understood and dealt with to provide better health care, he said.

“The world has become a neighborhood,” Frenk said. “Global health is not foreign health.  It’s about interdependence when it comes to health matters. We really have become a single neighborhood. We are in the midst of a health transition unlike anything the world has seen before.”

Nevertheless, he said the good things about worldwide urbanization are balanced by difficult issues.

Effects of urbanization on health are complex. There are growing numbers of common infections, maternal mortality and the proliferation of violence.

There are many health challenges associated with globalization including AIDS, influenza, climate change and harmful life styles.

In many cities, there’s limited access to drinking water. There’s bad sewage and common infections grow. Urban populations show higher rates of non-communicative diseases such as smoking, Frenk said.

These are among the most pressing challenges facing women in our global urban society, he said.

What does this mean for women? Among other things, there needs to be a broader approach to women’s health than just maternal health, Frenk said.

“We all have dual citizenship – in the Kingdom of the healthy and Kingdom of the sick,” he added.