Overview: 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 the African Region. 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 the African Region 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 regions. 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 the Region.

Anaemia and iron deficiency, which are associated with fatigue, physical weakness and increased susceptibility to infections, need to be tackled before women become pregnant to reduce their risks of poor maternal health and having low-birth-weight babies.

Preventing this toll of unnecessary deaths requires support for optimal nutrition, access to family planning and comprehensive and responsive health care available at all times, including before conception, during pregnancy and after delivery. However, the solution needs a more fundamental change than simply providing better services. Genuine socioeconomic empowerment of women is essential for achieving better outcomes. Until women are recognized as a vital social and economic resource that should not be squandered, the political will to preserve their lives and protect their health will remain weak.

While HIV and the complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the major killers of women in their reproductive years, African women are increasingly at risk of NCDs, notably cardiovascular diseases, breast and cervical cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.

Increasing levels of overweight and obesity are leading to a range of chronic illnesses, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, that are affecting women disproportionately in the Region.