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The World Health Organization is calling for urgent action to improve the health and lives of girls and women throughout their lifetime. A new WHO report finds girls and women worldwide miss out on the health care they need because of discrimination brought on by their low status in society.
Many reports have been published on specific health issues that affect women, such as the problems of maternal care. This is the first study that takes an integrated approach and looks at the needs and health problems that affect women over their entire life course.
Looked at from this perspective, the report reveals that societies fail to meet the health care needs of women at key moments of their lives, particularly in their adolescent years and in older age.
The director general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, notes this failure has complex deep-rooted causes. But, she says an analysis of the data in the study shows there is a direct link between discrimination against women and poor health.
"What this report has measured is the profound impact that social status has on the health of women and girls," Chan says, "As the report reveals, the obstacles that stand in the way of better health for women are not primarily technical or medical in nature, they are social and political and the two go together."
Chan says there will not be any significant progress in the health of women as long as they are regarded as second-class citizens in so many parts of the world.
The WHO report notes females are born with a biological advantage. They tend to live six to eight years longer than men. But, that does not necessarily equate with a happier life.
The report finds women are more susceptible to anxiety and depression than men and an estimated 73 million adult women worldwide suffer a major depressive episode each year.
The report compares the health of women in high and low-income countries, which, Chan observes shows biology is not destiny.
"Differences in the leading causes of death and disability in these two groups are dramatically different. A woman in Sub-Saharan Africa is seven times more likely to die early than a woman living in an affluent country," Chan states.
The director of WHO's Department of Gender, Women and Health, Tonya Nyagiro says society fails women at every age and stage of their lives. She says teenagers and older women are particularly overlooked when it comes to health.
"In fact, cardiovascular disease is one of the greatest killers or the leading killers of older women. It is known to be a man's disease and often older women are overlooked because they have different symptoms and their disease is not captured early enough," Nyagiro said.
The report says worldwide, women provide the bulk of health care-whether in the home, the community or the health system. Yet, when it comes to health care for women, the report finds the system continues to fail to address the specific needs and challenges of women throughout their lives.