Women Health

Improving Health, Creating Livelihoods

To address the issue of menstrual health, and the challenges women face with regards to access, hygiene and stigma, Women’s Global Empowerment Fund (WGEF) is launching the Healthy Periods Initiative – improving health, creating livelihoods.

The goal of this initiative is to provide information, access and opportunities with regards to menstrual health. In addition, WGEF is offering social enterprise opportunities, creating a viable business producing the sanitary pad product.

Through the purchase of a manufacturing unit WGEF will drive economic and socio-cultural changes through enterprise and education. The first step in this relevant, exciting endeavor will be to launch a pilot project; including workshops, business planning, production, education and assessment. We envision the pilot project to last 6 months.

Goals and challenges

Research is a priority in terms of improving women’s health. Research needs include diseases unique to women, more serious in women and those that differ in risk factors between women and men. The balance of gender in research studies needs to be balanced appropriately to allow analysis that will detect interactions between gender and other factors. Gronowski and Schindler suggest that scientific journals make documentation of gender a requirement when reporting the results of animal studies, and that funding agencies require justification from investigators for any gender inequity in their grant proposals, giving preference to those that are inclusive. They also suggest it is the role of health organisations to encourage women to enroll in clinical research. However, there has been progress in terms of large scale studies such as the WHI, and in 2006 the Society for Women’s Health Research founded the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD) and the journal Biology of Sex Differences to further the study of sex differences.

Research findings can take some time before becoming routinely implemented into clinical practice. Clinical medicine needs to incorporate the information already available from research studies as to the different ways in which diseases affect women and men. Many “normal” laboratory values have not been properly established for the female population separately, and similarly the “normal” criteria for growth and development. Drug dosing needs to take gender differences in drug metabolism into account.

Globally, women’s access to health care remains a challenge, both in developing and developed countries. In the Unites States, before the Affordable Health Care Act came into effect, 25% of women of child bearing age lacked health insurance. In the absence of adequate insurance, women are likely to avoid important steps to self care such as routine physical examination, screening and prevention testing, and prenatal care. The situation is aggravated by the fact that women living below the poverty line are at greater risk of unplanned pregnancy, unplanned delivery and elective abortion. Added to the financial burden in this group are poor educational achievement, lack of transportation, inflexible work schedules and difficulty obtaining child care, all of which function to create barriers to accessing health care. These problems are much worse in developing countries. Under 50% of childbirths in these countries are assisted by healthcare providers (e.g. midwives, nurses, doctors) which accounts for higher rates of maternal death, up to 1:1,000 live births. This is despite the WHO setting standards, such as a minimum of four antenatal visits.  A lack of healthcare providers, facilities, and resources such as formularies all contribute to high levels of morbidity amongst women from avoidable conditions such as obstetrical fistulae, sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer.

These challenges are included in the goals of the Office of Research on Women’s Health, in the United States, as is the goal of facilitating women’s access to careers in biomedicine. The ORWH believes that one of the best ways to advance research in women’s health is to increase the proportion of women involved in healthcare and health research, as well as assuming leadership in government, centres of higher learning, and in the private sector. This goal acknowledges the glass ceiling that women face in careers in science and in obtaining resources from grant funding to salaries and laboratory space. The National Science Foundation in the United States states that women only gain half of the doctorates awarded in science and engineering, fill only 21% of full-time professor positions in science and 5% of those in engineering, while earning only 82% of the remuneration their male colleagues make. These figures are even lower in Europe.

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