What is the most important issue in women’s health?

Women’s health is a very vast area of medicine because of the biological differences between men and women. There are several areas of women’s health all of which have their significance. Since health is not just the absence of disease but a state of complete physical, social, and mental well being, it means that once there is a derangement in any section or part of the health of a woman, she cannot be said to be in good health or to be healthy again. Therefore, every aspect of the health of a woman is very important.

There are however, some aspects of women’s health which are worthy of mention. This is because disorders in these systems have been found to cause more deaths and disability for women and a lot of attention has been given to these issues to improve the health of women. Some of these issues, ultimately affect the children. They are:

Female cancers: Two of the most common cancers affecting women are breast and cervical cancers. Early detection of these problems is key to a better survival. The statistics about this cancers are grim and these cancers are on the increase globally. According to the GLOBACON cancer registry , in the past year (2020), there were over 2 million new cases of breast cancer worldwide with over 600,000 deaths and over 600,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 340.000 deaths. These cancers are usually detected late in low and middle income countries like in Africa and Asia and a great number of the attributable deaths come from these places.

Sexual and Reproductive health: Sexual and reproductive health problems, including poor access to family planning services are responsible for one third of health issues for women of reproductive age. This is worse among adolescents, migrants, urban slum dwellers, refugees, and women in the post-partum period.

Maternal health: complications from pregnancy, and childbirth is responsible for a lot of deaths among women. Most of these deaths are preventable, if the women had access to earlier or better health services. According to the WHO, about 295 000 women died during and following pregnancy and childbirth alone in 2017. The vast majority of these deaths (94%) occurred in low-resource settings, and were more likely among women aged 10 to 19 years.

HIV: Three decades into the AIDS epidemic, young women still are disproportionately affected. According to the UN women, in 2016, globally, there were an estimated 17.8 million women living with HIV (15 and older), constituting 52 per cent of all adults living with HIV and young women and adolescent girls aged 15-24 are particularly affected. About 59 per cent of new HIV infections among young persons aged 15-24 in 2016 occurred among adolescent girls and young women. There is also the problem of poor access to treatment and HIV drugs by women, especially in low and middle income countries.

Sexually transmitted infections: There are several types of STIs caused by different pathogens. About eight pathogens are commonly identified in most STIs. Of these, 4 are currently curable: syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis. The other 4 are viral infections which are incurable: hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV). STIs affect women more than men.  The WHO reports that HPV in women is associated with cervical cancer and has been linked to over 311 000 cervical cancer deaths each year. Also, almost 1 million pregnant women were estimated to be infected with syphilis in 2016, resulting in over 350 000 adverse birth outcomes including 200 000 stillbirths and new born deaths.

Violence against women: Women can be subject to a range of different forms of violence, but physical and sexual violence – either by a partner or someone else is most common. Today, one in three women under 50 has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner, or non-partner sexual violence. Sexual violence has been linked to the increased incidence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections in women. Violence also affects the mental health of the women.

Mental health: Evidence suggests that women are more prone than men to experience anxiety, depression, and somatic complaints – physical symptoms that cannot be explained medically. Depression is the most common mental health problem for women and suicide a leading cause of death for women under 60.

Non communicable diseases: Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), are still the commonest cause of death in women. They are the world’s number one killer, causing over 65% of all female death and accounting for the death of over 18 million women worldwide. The four main ones are cancers, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, and they share common modifiable risk factors of which obesity, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits is central. These risk factors are often more domiciled in women.

Menopause and Aging: For women, aging also comes with its health challenges. They include general challenges like dementia, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, to those specific to women like post-menopausal symptoms like discomforting hot flushes and vaginal dryness. Older women are also prone to elder abuse, neglect, and often poor health.