Women’s health

Gender inequity, poverty among women, weak economic capacity, sexual and gender-based violence including female genital mutilation (FGM) are major impediments to the amelioration of women's health in Africa.

To ensure that women and men have equal access to the necessary opportunities to achieve their full health potential and health equity, the health sector and the community need to recognize that women and men differ in terms of both sex and gender. Because of social (gender) and biological (sex) differences, women and men experience different health risks, health-seeking behaviour, health outcomes and responses from health systems.

Furthermore, gender social stratifications have resulted in unequal benefits among various social groups of women and men as well as between women and men. Hence, continued support to Member States to roll out the Women’s health strategy and its resolution, and integrating gender into health policies and programmes have been the major achievements.

Women in Africa are more likely to die from communicable diseases (e.g. HIV, tuberculosis and malaria), maternal and perinatal conditions, and nutritional deficiencies, than women in other continents. Globally, about 468 million women aged 15–49 years (30% of all women) are thought to be anaemic, at least half because of iron deficiency and most of these anaemic women live in Africa (48–57%).

It’s reported that 1 in 4 deaths among adult women are caused by NCDs such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Tobacco is a leading risk factor for NCDs and its use is increasing among young women in Africa.

Early adulthood (25–49 years)

  • HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death among women within this age group globally. Noncommunicable diseases, specifically heart disease is the second leading cause. Tuberculosis is another major threat.
  • 214 million women of reproductive age in developing regions who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method. 44% of pregnancies are unintended. and this results in approximately 56 million abortions every year, half of which are unsafe. During or following pregnancy, women may develop or be diagnosed with health conditions including depression, obstetric fistula, hypertension and diabetes, all of which may require longer-term care.
  • Worldwide, the top five most common types of cancer among women are breast, lung, colorectal, cervical and stomach.
  • Women are more at risk of depression and anxiety than men. Associated risk factors include women’s subordinate status, stressors and negative life experiences including violence and the disproportionate burden of care for others.
  • One in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner at some point in their life.

Middle adulthood (50–64 years)

  • Women face a multiple health problems in their post-reproduction years. Women may face chronic conditions, such as obstetric fistula, pelvic pain and incontinence as a result of their pregnancies. These problems are more common in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in places where fertility is high and women do not have access to good quality health care for pregnancy and delivery.
  • Cervical cancer is one of the most common causes of death for women: globally, one woman dies of cervical cancer every two minutes. Nearly 90% of cervical cancer deaths are of women living in low- and middle- income countries. Women who are living with HIV are at a particularly high risk of cervical cancer as they are 4-5 times more likely to experience persistent HPV infection and subsequently cervical cancer.
  • Breast cancer is becoming more of a problem in low- and middle-income countries. Age at first pregnancy, the number of pregnancies and breastfeeding history can all influence a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Heart disease and stroke are significant causes of death and disability in women in both developed and developing countries and especially among women who are poor. Women with heart disease tend to present with different symptoms than men and are less likely to seek or to be provided with medical help and to be properly diagnosed until late in the disease process.
  • While improvements have been made in women’s health, women are less likely to have access to appropriate investigations and treatment, and are more likely to be underrepresented in research.

Later adulthood (65 to 79 and 80 years and over)

  • Regardless of where they live, the biggest killers of women at this life stage are heart disease, stroke, and chronic lung disease. Many of these are associated with modifiable risk factors in adolescence and early adulthood, including smoking, unhealthy diets, and sedentary lifestyles.
  • Women over the age of 65 have much higher rates of injuries due to falling than men – possibly related to frailty, osteoporosis and other underlying chronic conditions. Consequent fractures, limit quality of life and functional ability.These are often ignored because they are incorrectly seen as an inevitable part of ageing or less serious than such conditions as heart disease or cancer.
  • Dementia is more common among women than men in this age group.
  • Women aged 60 years and over also experience greater loss of functional abilities than men, including poor vision and hearing loss and are less likely to receive treatment or supportive aids for these conditions.
  • When older women live alone, they may be subject to elder abuse, including because of their limited access to social and financial protections (e.g. pensions, employment benefits). This in turn affects their access to health care.

At every phase of life, women and girls have specific needs and opportunities to optimize their health and well-being. Health is also linked across life phases. A life course approach helps optimise people’s health and well-being at all ages. It is built on evidence-based strategies and the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

 

AHO Strategy and Plan of Action

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

Publications

AHO Gender Equality Policy

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AHO Plan of Action for Implementing the Gender Equality Policy

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AHO Plan of Action for the Elimination of Mother-to-Child of HIV and Congenital Syphillis

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AHO Plan of Action to Accelerate the Reduction in Maternal Mortality and Severe Mobidity

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AHO Strategy and Plan of Action on Strengthening the Health System to Address Violence Against Women

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