Thursday, 18 March 2010

Women and Health

16 year old Zubaider lives in Afghanistan. She supported her family until she fell and broke her leg. WIN was able to get her treated at a high standard, local hospital and she is now improving well. Normally, she would not have received good treatment.

The health problems of women in developing countries are low on the list of priorities for the international community. Often women have different and unequal access to basic health resources.

Where health care must be paid for at source, women often do not have the funds to pay and so do not receive treatment that could improve their health and even save their lives. In poor families, it is often necessary to choose who will receive health care, and the breadwinner, understandably, takes first place.

Cultural or religious rules can reduce the effectiveness of treatment given to women. For instance, in some Muslim countries, women are discouraged from being examined by a male doctor. Women doctors are few and far between, meaning women may be unable to get the treatment they need. Diseases that should be cured successfully are left until it is too late, and women die unnecessarily.

In some cultures, wives are seen as little more than chattels. If a man’s wife dies in childbirth, he simply finds another. If he sees his wife as expendable in this way, he is unlikely to pay for expensive medical care for her.

Women’s health should, however, be seen as vital. It has an impact, not just on individual women, but on the whole of their society. Women bear and look after children, vital to the continuation of a society. Healthy women bear healthy children.

If women are sick, responsibility for caring for the family often falls on their daughters. These girls, who may be as young as six years old, have to look after their siblings, cook and clean, fetch water. Overworked, weakened, they are old before their time and their own life expectancy is reduced, perpetuating the problem. While they are caring for their family, they are not at school. Lack of education will prevent these girls from achieving their full potential, or finding careers that will lead them and their families out of poverty.

World In Need recognises the importance of women’s health on the development of communities and the eradication of poverty. In Afghanistan, we support a women’s co-operative which makes carpets for sale, and a day care centre for children, many of whom are from families with no fathers. Medical care is provided free to all of our women and children. Where the problems are too big for our team, we use the Cure Hospital, an excellent, and free, Iranian-run hospital in Kabul.

One of the functions of our centre in Soy, Northern Kenya, is to provide community health care, with a high priority given to ante-natal and post-natal care. Many women in Kenya cannot usually afford this care, and not only does this increase their risk of dying in childbirth, but it increases the risk to the baby as well. By offering basic care, we aim to improve the well being of whole families.

In several countries, we also work with people, mainly women and children, with HIV/AIDS, and we will report on that in our next blog.

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