International Women’s Day: calling for a new global agenda for women’s health

Every year on March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) with different themes and social activities ranging from appreciation towards women to the focus on women’s political and human rights.

Researchers from The George Institute for Global Health, a not-for-profit medical research institute based in Australia, China, India and the UK, call upon global and national women’s health policies to focus on the importance of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) for women.  NCDs include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In recent years, there have been significant achievements in women’s health in large part because of the major focus on reducing maternal mortality and morbidity. As a result, the burden of disease for women has changed dramatically and NCDs have become the leading cause of death and disability for women, killing more than 18 million women per year globally.

Professor Robyn Norton, Principal Director of The George Institute for Global Health, pointed out that the current women’s health agenda, both globally and in China, continues to focus almost exclusively on sexual and reproductive health and does not reflect a life course approach and disregards the importance of NCDs.

“For those women who choose not to have children, or cannot have children, or have passed the reproductive years, the agenda, if it just focuses entirely on maternal mortality, is not addressing the needs for those women,” said Professor Norton.

“That’s why we need to broaden the women’s health agenda, to include NCDs, to maximally improve women’s health. We are calling for the United Nations (UN) and other UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization, to take the lead and ensure there are resources put in to reducing the burden of NCDs in women and to improving on the gains that have already been achieved.”

“At The George Institute, we believe that ones’ health and life expectancy shouldn’t be determined by geography, socioeconomic status, fate – or gender. Today, we would love to celebrate this special day for women and commit ourselves to the improvement of women’s health.”

Professor Norton is also the lead author of “Women’s Health: A New Global Agenda”, the latest Oxford Martin Policy Paper launched in February, which aims to raise the profile of NCDs on the women’s health agenda as well as to support a gendered approach to the analyses of health data and reduce sex and gender disparities in health. This is the first in a series of papers aimed at igniting a global public conversation about the women’s health agenda and ultimately driving policy changes that will save lives.

Key women’s health facts highlighted in the paper include:

  • While maternal deaths declined by 45% between 1990 and 2013, to 289,000 worldwide, there are upwards of 18 million deaths of women from non-communicable disease each year.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, stroke, heart disease and chronic obstructive lung disease account for three of the four leading causes of death and NCDs for five of the top ten causes, with diabetes ranked seventh and hypertensive heart disease ranked ninth
  • In India, seven of the leading causes of female deaths are NCDs. Diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infections and tuberculosis are the other leading causes. Preterm birth complications no longer rank amongst the leading causes of death
  • In China, NCDs and injuries account for nine of the ten leading causes of death for women
  • Female smokers have a 25% greater risk of ischaemic heart disease than men
  • Women with diabetes have a 44% higher risk of ischaemic heart disease than men, and a 27% higher risk of stroke

Click here to read “Women’s Health: A New Global Agenda