Media centre

Women and health: today's evidence tomorrow's agenda

18 November 2009 -- A new report recently launched - Women and health: today's evidence tomorrow's agenda - provides a baseline of data about the health of women and girls throughout the life-course, in different parts of the world, and in different groups within countries.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO Podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode we look at gaps in health care for women and girls.

The first ever WHO report to look at the health of women throughout their lives finds that though women look after the health needs of others, whether in the home or the community, their own health needs are often neglected. WHO's Director-General Dr Margaret Chan explains the background to this report.

Dr Margaret Chan: I commissioned this report on women and health to gather a baseline of data about the health of women and girls throughout the life-course, in different parts of the world, and in different groups within countries. I did so based on my conviction that the health of women has been neglected, that this neglect is a major impediment to development, and that the situation needs to improve. I did so based on my conviction that women matter in ways far beyond their role as mothers.

Veronica Riemer: The report reveals that the obstacles that stand in the way of better health for women are not technical or medical in nature but social and political the world over. Professor Mahmoud Fathalla from the Assiut (Asiout) University in Egypt, who contributed to the report gives us an example from the Middle East.

Mahmoud Fathalla: "The challenge for girls in our region is simply that the girl has to face the simple fact that she was born a girl. She was born a girl in communities where some preference still predominates, where discrimination against the girl child is still seen and where she is not considered as her brother's equal".

Veronica Riemer: Professor Fatallah explains that his discrimination continues throughout a woman's life. In developing countries, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death and disability among 15-19 year old girls.

Mahmoud Fathalla: For a women in reproductive age, the major challenge is facing the risk of maternal death during pregnancy and childbirth. Although some countries in our region including Egypt made some good progress, other countries in our region still have some of the highest levels of maternal death in the world. It is a question of how much mothers and women are worth and whether society is willing to invest what it takes to save the lives of mothers when they are in the process of giving us life.

Veronica Riemer: Women generally live longer than men, but their lives are not necessarily healthy or happy - their extra years are increasingly compromised by chronic diseases and injuries. Mark Gorman Director of Strategic Development from Help Age International explains why older women are often excluded from health care.

Mark Gorman: It is particularly difficult for older women in health systems where there is a lot of pressure on the system, in poorer countries where hospitals and clinics are overloaded, older women are seen as very low priority, there is a certain amount of prejudice against older people in general and older women are often pushed down the priority list by health professionals who often describe ageing itself as a disease - they say you are not ill you are just old and send people away.

Health systems are not really addressing the problem, and I think one of the reasons for that is that 21st century health workers are being trained for 20th century health issues, health problems and they are not being prepared for the ageing that is taking place in the world particularly the ageing of women.

Veronica Riemer: With the launch of this report, WHO' s Director General Dr Chan will be looking to open policy dialogue to work out an agenda for change both within and well beyond the health sector.

Dr Margaret Chan: A call for action must reach beyond the health sector into areas such as education, transport, employment, and legal and judicial frameworks. Essentially, this is a call for women-centred policy-making and programming in all sectors, in a whole-of-government approach.

That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics drop us a line. Our email address is

For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

related links