WHO laments "shameful" lack of respect for women's right to good health

News release

MANILA, 8 March 2010—The World Health Organization today labelled as "shameful" the fact that 90% of maternal deaths in the Western Pacific Region could be avoided if women's rights to good health would be properly met.

WHO said that more than 100 women in the Region die from pregnancy-related deaths each day and, unless drastic measures are taken, the number of tragedies of this kind will continue to rise.

"It is shameful that despite the Region's rapid economic growth, a large—and growing—number of women are still excluded from the fruits of this progress," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "Good health is a universal right, not a privilege. Taking on this issue will be at the top of our agenda in the Western Pacific."

Dr Shin issued the statement to mark International Women's Day—observed on 8 March—which brings into focus the situation of women around the world and the progress made to reduce gender inequalities. This year's theme, "Equal rights and opportunities—progress for all", provides an opportunity for countries to rededicate themselves to improving the status of women and promoting their right to good health.

Numerous obstacles, including societal discrimination and limited access to health services, combine to deprive women of this right. A further challenge is the low level of education provided to women on average despite the fact that improved education for women has been found to produce better health outcomes for themselves and the generations that follow.

"Improving gender equality can enhance women's health and help avert deaths during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period," Dr Shin said. "It is simply not acceptable that each year, more than 30 000 women in the Western Pacific Region die unnecessarily due to pregnancy-related conditions."

Some countries in the Region, particularly those with high maternal death rates, are taking steps to bring down the number of deaths. In Cambodia, a nationwide surveillance system has been set up to record every maternal death in the country. This process will help guide government interventions to reduce pregnancy-related deaths. And in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, an integrated package of maternal, neonatal and child health services has been established at district and health centre levels to promote community participation in public health interventions.

WHO is developing a report on Women and Health in the Western Pacific. The report is designed to provide the stimulus for Member States to strengthen efforts to ensure equal opportunities for women and girls in order to protect and promote their health and the health of populations overall. The report will be presented to Member States at the sixty-first session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific Region in October 2010.

WHO has also developed a webpage (http://www.wpro.who.int/health_topics/gender/) to support Member States in their efforts to address gender inequalities in health and promote health policies and programmes responsive to the specific needs of women and men.

For more information, please contact Dr Narimah Awin, Regional Adviser in Making Pregnancy Safer: +63-928-501-2071, or Ms Anjana Bhushan, Technical Officer, Health in Development:
+63-2-528-9814.

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