The latest policy paper from the Oxford Martin School - ‘Women’s Health: A New Global Agenda’ – calls for global and national women’s health strategies to focus on non-communicable diseases, which kill more than 18 million women a year worldwide.
The paper, which was written by academics from The George Institute for Global Health, was launched on 10 February at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health, and discussed by a panel that included Dame Una O’Brien, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Lord Ribeiro, former President of the Royal College of Surgeons, Elizabeth Smith, Head of Profession for Health, Department for International Development, and group Co-Chair Dan Poulter MP.
The paper’s recommendations start with a call for women’s health policies to prioritise non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such heart disease, stroke and diabetes, which are the leading causes of premature death in most countries.
Speaking at the meeting, Dame Una said: "I very much welcome this report being published today. I think it's a leading piece of work in its own right, and it adds to and reinforces a lot of research now looking at the issues to do with women's health both nationally and globally."
Seven of the 10 leading causes of death for women worldwide are NCDs, with ischaemic heart disease and stroke at the top of the list; yet most strategies for women’s health focus almost exclusively on sexual and reproductive issues. Significant gains have been made in women’s health in recent decades because of the focus on reducing unacceptably high levels of maternal mortality and morbidity. As a result, maternal mortality has fallen by 45% since 1990.
“The Sustainable Development Goals include a target to reduce deaths from non-communicable diseases by one-third. We have a small window of opportunity before national strategies are firmed up and if these fail to deliver concrete plans to meet the 2030 target, then we will miss the opportunity to save millions of women dying prematurely.”
Professor Robyn Norton, lead author and Principal Director of The George Institute
The paper highlights the need for a change in the way data are collected and how research is conducted. Studies show that diseases impact men and women differently. In order to improve women’s health, health data need to be separated by sex and researchers need to include sufficient numbers of women in scientific studies.
The paper’s recommendations include:
- Global stakeholders should prioritise a broader health agenda for women and adolescent girls, with a focus on the leading causes of death and disability - namely NCDs – and to promote an integrated, life-course approach to sexual and reproductive health;
- The UK government should allocate resources in the UK to reducing female mortality from non-communicable diseases, in order to help meet the global target;
- The Department for International Development should prioritise a broader, integrated women’s health agenda in low- and middle-income countries;
- All agencies engaged in healthcare, especially in low- and middle-income countries, should devote resources to gendered analyses of their data;
- Health research funding agencies, universities and peer-reviewed journals should require all new research to include women in studies and to separate data by sex.
The UK paper will be followed by further country-specific papers in The George Institute’s other areas of operation, Australia, China and India.
Meg Hillier, Labour and Co-operative MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, and Vice-Chair of the APPG for Global Health, said:
“I welcome this timely paper from the Oxford Martin School. It is important that women’s health is not just pigeonholed as sexual or maternal.”
- While maternal deaths declined by 45% between 1990 and 2013, to 289,000 worldwide, there are upwards of 18 million deaths of women from non-communicable disease each year.
- In low- and middle-income countries, stroke, IHD and COPD account for three of the four leading causes of death and NCDs for five of the top ten causes, with diabetes ranked seventh and hypertensive heart disease ranked ninth
- In India, seven of the leading causes of female deaths are NCDs. Diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infections and tuberculosis are the other leading causes. Preterm birth complications no longer rank amongst the leading causes of death
- In China, NCDs and injuries account for nine of the ten leading causes of death for women
- Female smokers have a 25% greater risk of ischaemic heart disease than men
- Women with diabetes have a 44% higher risk of ischaemic heart disease than men, and a 27% higher risk of stroke
Opinion piece by Professor Norton
The Huffington Post op-ed by Professor Norton
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