Women and children neglected in drive for equitable health for all

Published: 29 November 2011

29 November 2011 - A report issued today by a major humanitarian coalition calls for barriers to health services to be removed.

Eliminating health inequities:  every woman and every child counts” a report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), hosted by the World Health Organisation , paints a stark picture of global health inequities.  The report focuses on women and children not only because many suffer undue hardship, but also because women are instrumental in improving the health of their children, families and communities.

“Women, mothers and adolescent girls are too often subjected to stigma and discrimination and denied access to health care. In some countries they are required to have spousal or parental permission to access health services such as sexual and reproductive healthcare. Community-based volunteers can reach the unreached by tailoring a response to their specific context. And it works even in the most unexpected places around the globe as described by the case studies  featured in the report” said Matthias Schmale, Under Secretary General of the IFRC.

Carole Presern, Director of the PMNCH added that “Political commitment is essential in overcoming the fundamental economic and social barriers that prevent so many women and children from accessing the care to which they are entitled. The Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, launched by the UN Secretary-General in 2010, has prompted much greater recognition that reducing maternal and child deaths and reaching the Millennium Development Goals is fundamentally a political challenge, far less a technical one. It has since been impressive to see remarkable leadership by so many countries in committing to investment and policy change to improve equity and access, in line with Global Strategy goals. We need to move still faster, and to insist on accountability for such commitments, but the human rights message is clearly resonating.”

Stories on health inequities unfold everyday and here is a bleak reminder:
A woman who is HIV positive and who suffered severe burns to 85 percent of her body is refused treatment at several hospitals.  A young father reportedly dies from a tooth infection because he couldn't afford his medication, offering a sobering reminder of the importance of oral health and the number of people without access to universal health coverage.  Injecting drug users in some places are caged together on double-decker bunks with no way out but to endure the agonies of withdrawal. This is only a first step in a harsh, coercive approach to drug treatment. Yet there is scientific evidence that harm reduction programme works. 

Children born in rural areas or urban slums, children born to mothers with lower levels of education, and children born to families with lower incomes fare worse than others.  For example, from a selection of countries where data is available in Africa, Asia and the Americas, a child born to the wealthiest 20 per cent of households is more than twice as likely to reach the age of five compared to children born to the poorest 20 per cent of households in urban areas. In Europe, similar trends are observed: under-five mortality rates are at least 1.9 times higher among the poorest 20 per cent of households than among the richest 20 per cent.

This issue will be addressed by the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent  in Geneva on Tuesday 29 November.

For more information:
Please contact:
Sadia Kaenzig, IFRC Senior adviser, Health communications, sadia.kaenzig@ifrc.org +41792173386 (mob)
Lori McDougall, Senior Technical Officer , Policy and Advocacy, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, McDougallL@who.int; +41-79-206-1320 (mob)