Girls’ Health

Pregnancy, childbirth and newborn

  • Approximately 303 000 women died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth in 2015. Worldwide, one woman out of five still has no access during childbirth to a skilled health professional, who could prevent or manage most complications.
  • Over 10% of women globally, and about 20% of women in developing countries, experience peripartum and postpartum depression. This severely affects women’s health and well-being and their children’s early development.
  • An estimated 2.6 million stillbirths occurred globally in 2015, 98% of them in low- and middle-income countries. Globally, one in ten live births is preterm.
  • In some settings, gender-based discrimination can lead to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide.
  • The risk of dying is highest in the first month of life with 2.5 million neonatal deaths in 2017. Prematurity, complications during labour and birth, and infections like sepsis, pneumonia, tetanus and diarrhoea are leading causes, all of which can be prevented.

Infancy and early childhood (1 month–4 years)

  • 5.4 million children under the age of 5 died in 2017. Children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 14 times more likely to die before the age of 5 than children in high income countries.
  • Leading causes of death for girls and boys include preterm birth complications, pneumonia, birth asphyxia, congenital anomalies, diarrhoea and malaria, with similar death rates for girls and boys. Most of these conditions can be prevented or treated by simple, affordable interventions.
  • In some settings, gender discrimination means girls are less likely to access to vaccines, health services and good nutrition than their male counterparts.
  • Children in the poorest households are nearly twice as likely to die before the age of five than those from the richest, with the majority dying in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Educating girls and women improves health outcomes. Despite progress made over the last 20 years however, girls are still less likely than boys to attend school.

Later childhood and early adolescence (5–14 years)

  • Girls aged 5-9 have a relatively high risk of dying from preventable infectious diseases such as lower respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, or malaria. Lower respiratory infections are also the leading cause of death for younger adolescent girls aged 10–14 years.
  • Despite small improvements over the past few years, HIV/AIDS remains the second leading cause for this group of girls.
  • During puberty, gender norms may place restrictions on girls’ physical mobility and access to information, which influences their self-esteem and health seeking behavior as they transition into adulthood. Globally, an estimated 18% of girls, in comparison to 8% of boys, experience sexual abuse at some point in their childhood. An estimated 120 million adolescent girls have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts.
  • Nutritional problems are a major issue. Overweight and obesity can lead to premature death and disability later on, while girls may experience anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. Iron deficiency anemia affects a substantial number of adolescent girls.
  • Vaccination of young adolescent girls against HPV prevents cervical cancer in later life.

Later adolescence and youth (15–24 years)

  • The top causes of death for females aged 15–24 years are maternal conditions, self-harm, road injury, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases and tuberculosis. Depressive disorders, linked to self-harm and suicide, are leading causes of ill health. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region which has the highest burden of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
  • Young women and girls are subject to a range of harmful practices and violence, including early marriage; every year, 12 million girls get married before the age of 18 years. In addition, 12.8 million births occur among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years, and 3.9 million unsafe abortions occur among girls aged 15-19 years each year, contributing to maternal mortality and lasting health problems.
  • At least 200 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), including about one in three girls aged 15–19 years in 30 countries in which the practice is concentrated. This practice contributes to a range of adverse health outcomes.
  • Gender-based violence becomes a major problem and will continue in later life.
  • Data show that lack of decision-making power has a profound impact on the health of girls and young women. For example, 52% of adolescent girls and young women from rural areas and 47% from urban areas in 28 countries from sub-Saharan Africa need approval from their husbands/family to make decisions about their own health care.

AHO Strategy and Plan of Action to address Girls' Health issues

Promoting health through the life course is a priority focus in AHO’s work, including in the 5th General Programme of Work . Universal Health Coverage underpins AHO’s efforts to support countries strengthen delivery of, and access to, services to prevent and treat the most common health conditions. The Organisation also works to address risk factors, including those related to gender inequality and other social determinants such as socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, etc.

AHO produces and regularly updates evidence-based guidelines on key health issues, and works alongside partners in countries to strengthen services on the ground.

  • Educating girls and women improves health outcomes. Despite progress made over the last 20 years however, girls are still less likely than boys to attend school.
  • Vaccination of young adolescent girls against HPV prevents cervical cancer in later life.