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Lack of Health Care Worsens Women's Life Quality: WHO

Laura MacInnis

Women are often deprived of health care in the crucial years of puberty and old age due to social inequalities with men, the World Health Organisation has said. (REUTERS/Michaela Rehle)

GENEVA - Despite living six to eight years longer than men, women lack essential health care throughout their lives, particularly as teenagers and elderly people, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

In a report, the WHO said that women around the world are "denied a chance to develop their full human potential" because many critical medical needs are ignored.

"Women generally live longer than men, but their lives are not necessarily healthy or happy," Margaret Chan, the head of the United Nations health agency, said at the WHO on Monday.

Though women tend to seek out medical services more often than men -- particularly before, during and after pregnancy -- they often fail to get adequate treatment to cope with violence, depression and problems related to old age, such as dementia.

"The obstacles that stand in the way of better health for women are not primarily technical or medical in nature. They are social and political," Chan said.

Childbirth assistance can be particularly hard to access for unmarried and marginalized women, teenagers and sex workers, WHO said in its first attempt to log differences between men's and women's health over their lifetimes.

"In many countries, sexual and reproductive health services tend to focus exclusively on married women and ignore the needs of unmarried women and adolescents," the report said.


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"Paradoxically, health systems are often unresponsive to the needs of women despite the fact that women themselves are major contributors to health, through their roles as primary care givers in the family and also health care providers," it said.

WHO also said some 99 percent of the estimated 500,000 women who die every year giving birth are in developing countries where medical supplies and skilled workers are in short supply.

But while emphasizing the many links between poverty and ill health, the report also stressed that many shortcomings affect women across income brackets and geographical regions.

Depression and anxiety affect far more women than men, and women are more likely to catch sexually transmitted diseases.

Women are also overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of sexual violence than men, and elderly women's health problems such as eyesight and hearing loss, arthritis, depression and dementia are often untreated.

Unequal access to education, employment and fair wages can also present obstacles to women's health, especially in markets where medical insurance is linked to work or where user fees are required to access basic services, the WHO report found.

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