Women's Health

Although men and women share many common health issues there are conditions and illnesses that only affect women, which relate to a woman's reproductive system. Pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, menstruation and menopause are among the conditions that most frequently cause health problems for women. Furthermore, women's health during the fertile years, generally between the ages of 15 and 49 years, has an impact on the health and development of the next generation. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged between 15 and 19 in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.).

There is a global trend for reducing adolescent pregnancy, most notably in middle-income countries. The W.H.O. report on women's health in 2009 reveals the leading cause of death for women in reproductive years globally is HIV. In developing countries, where the death toll is the highest, women are rarely educated on contraception and safe sex. Although many young girls have heard about HIV/AIDS, only 38 percent are able to describe correctly the main ways to avoid infection. A small number use condoms when having high-risk sex and fewer still are aware of their HIV status.

Another global-scale problem is women's mental health. Suicide is among the leading causes of death in middle and low-income counties, especially in the West Pacific region. Other mental problems, such as depression can cause severe problems because it is often neglected and mistreated. More than 73 million women had experienced at least one depression or "panic" condition in 2009, while 13 percent of women suffer from postpartum depression within one year after birth. Domestic violence is one of the primary causes of depression and suicidal behavior. A W.H.O. survey in 11 countries shows that females are subject to violence, with a figure of 15 percent in Japan increasing to more than 70 percent in Ethiopia and Peru.

Cardiovascular diseases pose a serious threat to both men and women over the age of 60 around the world. Stroke, ischaemic heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are the most frequent cause of death (45 percent of deaths globally). Cancer accounts for 15 percent of deaths in this age group, most frequently cancer of the breast, lung and colon. Ovarian cancer is a serious illness that causes deaths in women if it is not detected early. According to Cancer Research U.K., the survival rate has improved in the 21st century. For women diagnosed in England during 2003-2007, the one and five-year survival rates are 70 percent and 14 percent respectively, compared to 42 percent and 21 percent during the period 1971-1975. Other cancers affecting women include cervical cancer. The National Cancer Institute states that the number of estimated new cases in the United States in 2011 stood at 12,710, with 4,290 deaths. Cervical cancer is described as a "slow-growing" cancer and is mostly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. It can be detected with regular Pap tests and teenage girls are offered the HPV injection in high school as a preventative measure.

Overall, 85 percent of women in the world live in low and middle-income countries. Often this means that they do not have full access to adequate healthcare, including screening and preventive care. In many countries, women are deprived of good healthcare due to a number of factors. Statistically women need healthcare more frequently than men, although the poverty rate is much higher in women than in men. In developing countries, up to 50 percent of women have no income of their own and depend on the men in their family for money. Women tend to be more frequently employed on a part-time basis, where health benefits are not offered. Meanwhile, in most Latin American countries abortion is strictly forbidden, so women who do not want a baby have to turn to illegal procedures, which often take place in non-sterile conditions.

World governments and international organizations are working hard to increase the quality of women's healthcare around the world. The United Nations has named global health and welfare as its top priority. Its Millennium Development Goals relate directly or indirectly to the topic of women's health. They include eradicating poverty and hunger, along with providing universal education. Other goals are promoting gender equality, improving child and maternal health, fighting HIV/AIDS, promoting sustainable development and participating in a global partnership.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Essays on Women, Medicine and Health
Ann Oakley.
Edinburgh University Press, 1993
My Body: Women Speak out about Their Health Care
Marion Crook.
Insight Books, 1995
Partnership for Health: Building Relationships between Women and Health Caregivers
Christina S. Beck; Sandra L. Ragan; Athena DuPrae.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Women's Mental Health in Primary Care
Kathryn J. Zerbe.
W. B. Saunders, 1999
Women's Health during and after Pregnancy: A Theory-Based Study of Adaptation to Change
Lorraine Tulman; Jacqueline Fawcett.
Springer, 2003
You Don't Need a Hysterectomy: New and Effective Ways of Avoiding Major Surgery
Ivan K. Strausz.
Perseus Books, 2001
Do You Really Need Surgery? A Sensible Guide to Hysterectomy and Other Procedures for Women
Michele C. Moore; Caroline M. de Costa.
Rutgers University Press, 2004
Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, and Womenin the New Millennium
Wendy Chavkin; Ellen Chesler.
Rutgers University Press, 2005
Financing Health Care for Women with Disabilities
Janice Blanchard; Susan Hosek.
Rand, 2003
African-American Women's Health and Social Issues
Catherine Fisher Collins.
Auburn House, 1996
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