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Archive for the ‘Women's Health’ Category

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.

Rx for Women’s Health

In Women's Health on April 6, 2010 at 11:52 am

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban environments, and the Penn-ICOWHI 18th Conference this week in Philadelphia will explore redesigning cities for active living, increasing access to health care, treating adolescent girls in high-risk environments, eliminating policy gaps that undermine women’s health, and curbing domestic violence. 

The conference is bringing international experts in city planning, health policy, public policy, education, sociology, and others together to address how health issues facing women  are exacerbated by city living. Speakers include: 

  • A refugee from Kenya who will discuss the health of women affected by post-election violence
  • A Women’s Health Volunteer from Iran; currently, 100,000 such volunteers provide care for nearly 20 million people in the country 
  • Mamphela Ramphele, MD, a leading anti-apartheid activist and current executive chair of Circle Capital Ventures, a Cape Town-based black economic empowerment company    
  • Sheela Patel, founder and director of a Mumbai-based NGO designed to address the needs of “slumdog’s mother” – women living on pavements and in slums in different parts of India

 The conditions in cities impact the health of women all over the globe, from maternal mortality rates in the slums of New Delhi – where a study to be presented at the conference found poor pregnant women were routinely refused admission and denied registration in local hospitals and forced to deliver their babies without proper medical care – to infant mortality rates in America – where another session will present data that show infant mortality rates are higher in poorer neighborhoods than national averages.

 The four-day conference is looking for solutions. Can cities be made livable? Can decent health care be delivered under the most difficult of circumstances?

Do you have a plan?

In Women's Health on April 6, 2010 at 11:50 am

This year’s International Congress on Women’s Health Issues has a plan. It sounds simple and easy to accomplish. It will look at urban planning with an eye to identifying potential paths for better supporting women’s health. But the devil is in the details, of course.

The plan will develop strategies for efficient delivery of health promotion, health education, and disease and injury prevention guidelines for urban women everywhere.

The final piece of the plan is to get the word out – become the town crier – let people know about the recommendations for urban women’s health. That includes key players in the global health, urban planning and urban finance fields. And then move to action.

Does this sound like hard work? It sure is. An idea does not become a plan until it’s communicated far and wide. A policy does not emerge until all the partners have signed off and moved it forward.

Will it take a long time? We hope not because women’s health issues worldwide are reaching a crisis and have no more time to waste.

When Progress is Fatal

In Women's Health on April 6, 2010 at 11:49 am

Worldwide urbanization looks like progress on its face. Growing urbanization brings more jobs to the city and more people to work.

That’s one way to look at it. There’s another side, too. There’s a negative impact that urbanization is having on the health of citizens in developing countries.

The 18th International Congress on Women’s Health Issues is looking at just that – assessing the impact of urban health and its effect on women in low income settlements.

One conference session looks at the environmental impact on women in low-income communities in Kapala City, Uganda.

The findings are shocking. There is no decent city planning systems or delivery systems. Thousands of women have been pushed to the most undesirable sections of the city where they face an unbelievable urban health hazards. That includes substandard housing, overcrowding, indoor air pollution and contaminated water supplies.

It takes a vision. It takes a plan. It takes a long-term commitment to bring Kampala City out of the trenches and to deliver better health care for women living in this community.

–     Judi Hasson

A Safe Haven for Abused Women

In Women's Health on April 5, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Making sure women are healthy in America is a complex challenge, not just about making sure they are well-fed, housed and getting good medical care.

There are plenty of environmental issues, too, that can make or break health issues for women in urban areas.

The 18th Annual International Congress on Women’s Health Issues focuses on women’s health and urban areas. And one of the big domestic issues is helping abused women find a safe haven and get their lives back together again.

One session at the four-day conference is studying housing intervention for abused women and their children in Mulnomah County, Oregon. It looks at one way to get women who have suffered abuse out of a bad environment and back on track.

The session is part of a study from Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing on safe and affordable housing for women surviving violence.

The issue will be discussed and debated at the track session. The bottom line: the importance of providing housing stability to women after they have experienced a physical or sexual assault.

You may argue that this is about more than just health but safe housing is a big component of bettering women’s health.

One woman told the study: “There is nothing in this world more important than being able to provide housing for your family.”

Women Pushed to the Edge in Cities

In Women's Health on April 5, 2010 at 2:23 pm

You can take one city anywhere in the world and find women’s health being ravaged by a wide range of environmental insults.

A session on environmental challenges to women’s health does just that at the 18th Annual International Congress on Women’s Health Issues.

The session focuses on challenges among women in low –income communities in Kampala City, Uganda.

While every city is unique, there are plenty of lessons to learn about urban health that affect women in low-income settings by studying one location.

The problem is compounded by the failure of urban delivery systems, not to mention growing environmental health hazards. These include substandard housing, overcrowding, indoor air pollution, insufficient and contaminated water supplies, contaminated and inadequate food, poor sanitary conditions and growing traffic.

The session, led by Paul Lsolo Mukwaya, a PhD fellow at Makerere University in Uganda, will look at the importance of intersecting many sectors and stakeholders to improve women’s life.

Women’s health is more than just seeing the doctor and getting an inoculation. The session will underscore the importance of a safe and clean environment in helping to keep women healthy.

Healthy Babies

In Women's Health on April 5, 2010 at 2:19 pm

No matter where you are in the world – in Philadelphia’s inner city or the teeming slums of Cairo, the urgency to have healthy births and babies is paramount.

Sessions at the 18th Annual International Congress on Women’s Health Issues focuses on programs to keep women healthy and make sure their children are, too.

One session at the conference is looking at how working mothers in Bangkok are able to continue breast feeding their babies, dealing with balancing the pressure from work and breastfeeding.

Another looks at health care programs in Texas for mostly foreign-born Hispanic women who did not receive early prenatal care. The result: a high infant mortality rate.

That program in Houston looks at the importance of using a community to empower women, given them information about their health and increase access to health care.

The mothers formed community coalitions with churches, local businesses, elected officials and the media to get the word out about healthy pregnancies for healthy individuals.

The conference also looks at a program in Kenya where medical and community officials are working toward humanizing the childbirth practice, establishing something as simple as waiting rooms to better accommodate clients and allowing women to be accompanied and choose a position during childbirth.

Any country and every community has an obligation to provide the best care possible for their pregnant women and to make sure their health and the health of their babies is not affected by a bad delivery system. The conference is taking a look at childbearing in many ways to find new programs and commitments for healthy children.

A Race Against Time for Women’s Health

In Women's Health on March 31, 2010 at 10:35 am

Women in urban environments, particularly in developing nations where the population has been exploding, suffer greatly from environmental degradation and lack of essential health services.

What will it take to improve women’s health in these cities around the world and even in the poor urban areas of United States?

It could be something as simple as adequate latrines in urban slums, better lighting for safety, or easier access to healthy foods. It could mean designing and evaluating ways to reduce HIV risk-associated sexual behaviors, programs to assist victims of domestic violence and women in prison, or the creation of clinics using best practices with nurses providing the primary care

The University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the International Council on Women’s Health, will hold its 18th Congress on Women’s Health Issues in Philadelphia from April 7 to 10 to explore a wide range of issues related to improving the lives of women in urban areas through improved health care and redesigning cities to fit the unique needs of women.

This year’s four day conference, “Cities and Women’s Health: Global Perspectives” will bring together experts in the fields of urban design, health sciences, health policy, law, social policy, education and sociology to identify and critically analyze best practices and new strategies to enhance women’s health in urban areas. The participants will also explore new paradigms of scholarship and practice that integrate environment and health care.

The conference comes at a particularly significant moment. With President Obama signing historic health reform legislation on March 23, poor urban American women should be able to get better health care in coming years. Right now, the report card is spotty for those living in the poor cities of the United States and it is not a pretty picture in the international arena.

There are millions of women adversely affected by civil wars, natural disasters and persecution and poverty. Mortality rates around the world for women in urban environments are shockingly high and health conditions are often unconscionable. Women in crowded and poor cities routinely confront cancer, obesity, hypertension, osteoarthritis, diabetes and depression without assistance or treatment while living amid pollution, stress and violence.

Women often hold a heavier burden due to gender inequities in society and their unique problems are often invisible to policy makers

Bringing about change and finding ways to better serve and treat this population will not be easy. It will require strong will, enlightened leadership, experimentation, a commitment of resources from local home governments, nonprofits and the international community.

But money alone is not enough. It will require new ideas and efforts to address glaring health inequities holistically with creative medical care and public health strategies that include social services and targeted programs for targeted populations.

In the drive for women’s health, it is time to ignite the dialogue and then move from talk to direct action. There is no time to waste.

— Afaf Meleis, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing