In order to lead healthy lives, women need access to more than a general practitioner; they require healthcare providers that specialize in a woman’s body. Recognizing and treating issues specific to women often means the difference between life and death. Cancers alone are responsible for 20% of deaths, with breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer among them. Complications in childbirth account for the deaths of 500~1000 mothers in many parts of the world, many of them preventable.
There are many reasons for this, but here’s the main issue:
“Women need more health care, but also are more likely to be poor. Health care costs threaten their health and economic security….Throughout their reproductive years, regardless of whether they have children, women require substantially more contact with medical providers than men their age.” (ABA)
In what continues to be a male-centric world, this is a huge problem. To illustrate, in the USA, less than 43,000 out of nearly 100,000 active physicians are Ob/Gyns. That’s 4.5% to specialize in over 50% of the US population. The need for trained Ob/Gyn professionals in every community that has women in it (meaning almost all communities on planet Earth) is real. Let’s look at the state of Women’s Health around the world.
Where it Hurts
There are a lot of ways to assess women’s healthcare globally. You could look at Ob/Gyn’s per capita or death rates due to female-specific diseases. But no matter how you slice it, sub-Saharan Africa and South-east Asia show the most need. A low density of women’s health specialists and a lack of infrastructure means that even if there was an Ob/Gyn clinic nearby, most women would have a difficult time getting there. Combine this with a lack of capital to spend on yearly check-ups or professionally assisted births, and you have a recipe for high mortality rates from preventable causes, not to mention injury and illness.
It should come to no surprise that wealth – or the lack there-of – is a major obstacle to women healthcare. Put a map of maternal mortality or deaths from cervical cancer next to a map of each country’s GDP and you will see a staggering similarity. But global and national economics aren’t where the wealth gap ends: it’s where it begins.
Even wealthy countries like the USA have huge barriers keeping women from the healthcare they need. Race and geography come into play, following along the line drawn by the Wealth Gap. In 2017, infectious disease expert Judy Stone wrote in Forbes,
“…Black women have a much higher risk of pregnancy related complications and deaths—12 fold higher than white women in New York City, for example. Some is due to poverty and lack knowledge about and access to healthy diets and good care.
“This is not just an urban problem. Care is a growing problem in rural areas like my community, which are suffering from closures of hospitals and shortage of all staff, especially physicians like high-risk Ob-Gyn and neonatal specialists. Rural women have a 64% higher rate of pregnancy-related deaths than city dwellers do.”
Admittedly, money is not the root of every problem, just like it’s not the root of every evil.
Take the case of Tia Doster, a 25-year-old with a master’s degree in Tampa, Florida. Neither she, nor her doctors knew about preeclampsia, “a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. [It] usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal.” (Mayo Clinic) This knowledge gap almost cost Tia and her daughter their lives.
The Future is in Our Hands
There is still a lot of work to do. Medical professionals and innovators can lead the charge in this battle. It is imperative that business leaders and entrepreneurs actively disrupt the healthcare system. With our leadership, we can focus on what is truly needed and guide funding in that direction. If we want to succeed in changing women’s healthcare in every part of the world, there are critical actions we should consider:
- Bring attention to women’s health issues and how prevalent they are.
- Recognize that women’s health issues do not stop at borders, income caps, or racial lines.
- Choose one issue barring women from vital healthcare and focus on that. (Logistics, innovation, education, etc.).
- Overachievement usually means you’ve gone too far. Pick your target and hit it square on.
- Connect with other companies, programs, NPO’s, and individuals with similar goals.
- Women’s health is a social issue as well as a health issue. Embrace that.
- Make sure women are involved and consulted on every step of your process.