Why poverty is sexist: health edition

Why poverty is sexist: health edition


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This is part of our series of blogs exploring the facts about why poverty is sexist.

Poverty and gender inequality go hand-in-hand; girls and women in the poorest countries suffer a double whammy, of being born both in a poor country and female. To see the extent of this disadvantage, ONE analyzed the situation for girls and women in least developed countries (LDCs) across key gender indicators. On every indicator, life is significantly harder for girls and women in LDCs compared with those living in other countries. While that may not be surprising – because men in poor countries are also disadvantaged – ONE also found that the gender gap between males and females is larger in the poorest countries.

Today we’re taking a closer look at the challenges girls and women face in the health sector.

The health of girls and women must remain a foundational priority on the global development agenda, and leaders must chart a clear pathway towards the virtual elimination of preventable maternal and child deaths. As part of this effort, investments must be targeted in ways that aggressively fight specific diseases that adversely impact women, help make women’s access to essential health commodities universal, and strengthen human resources for health, which can extend the reach of health systems to the most vulnerable.

Of adults living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, 58% are women; and, globally women aged 15–24 face double the risk of HIV infection compared with their male peers.

Almost 800 women die every day from complications in pregnancy or childbirth. Of the 68 countries with the highest burden of maternal and child deaths, 53 do not have the 23 physicians, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people deemed necessary to deliver essential health services;27 and an estimated 225 million women are not able to access the tools needed to plan and space the births of their children. Some 43 million women do not deliver their babies in a health facility.

Far too many women and girls still lack access to the quality health services, programs and commodities they need to stay healthy. Compounding this problem, women experience physiological, economic and socio-cultural obstacles that make them more vulnerable to many diseases and conditions than their male counterparts.

For example, a woman in Sierra Leone is 183 times more likely to die bringing a new life into the world than a woman in Switzerland.

Almost half (45%) of the world’s maternal deaths occur amongst the 13% of the world’s poorest women living in LDCs: 131,000 in total. Across LDCs, the average ratio is 1 in 217 (i.e. 1 maternal death per 217 live births) compared with 1 in 1,250 on average across non-LDCs.

While the situation sounds rather grim, there is a reason to have hope as we look ahead to the drafting of the Sustainable Development Goals. There is the potential for an incredible transformation in the health sector for girls and women.

Global health

How can we accomplish this?

– Increasing the amount spent on key health interventions for women and children by $5 per person per year to 2035 across 74 developing countries could yield a nine times return on investment in economic and social benefits.

– In 2013, more than two-thirds of pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries received treatment to prevent transmission of the virus to their babies. Fast-tracking efforts on HIV/AIDS could see the world eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, save millions of lives, and return $15 for every $1 invested.

– If all women could access the care, commodities and services recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal deaths would drop by 67%, and newborn deaths would fall by 77%.

– In recent years, a significant increase in donor and domestic investments in women’s and children’s health has made a real impact: there are now fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer women dying in childbirth and fewer children dying from preventable causes than ever before.

Yet it is clear from the statistics that better and more investments in women’s health, including training and retaining health care workers, are critical to saving lives of both women and children and to improving their overall health. As a side benefit, strengthened formal health systems could free up the time of women who traditionally play that (unpaid) role in the family, allowing them to pursue more economically productive activities.

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