International Day of Action for Women’s Health: A call for equality in health care

By Sriram Natarajan

Although the population of women in India has overtaken men, there are many facets of life where women struggle to achieve gender equality. Gender equality is understood as the stage of human development at which the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of individuals should not be determined by whether they were born male or female.

One of the most important aspects, where gender equality is an absolute necessity, is women’s health. According to a collaborative study by researchers from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Indian Statistical Institute, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and Harvard University, gender discrimination harms to women’s health in India. Experts found that only 37% of women had access to health care, compared to 67% of men. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the huge gaps in our healthcare infrastructure and the need for rapid and accurate diagnosis at all levels of society.

Governments around the world have taken action to improve women’s health in line with commitments made at major international summits. In India, significant progress has been made in reducing maternal mortality.

Women’s health needs attention

According to a report published in 2021 by the KFF organization on “The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic”, women represent more than half (55%) of all adults (15-49 years old) living with HIV in the world, and HIV (along with pregnancy-related issues) is the resultant cause of death for women of reproductive age. Tuberculosis is often linked to HIV infection and is among the leading causes of death among women aged 20-59 in low-income countries. Apart from this, chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis are major causes of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility in women. Group B streptococcal infection causes approximately 150,000 preventable stillbirths and infant deaths worldwide each year. The types of cancer affecting women, particularly breast and cervical cancers, cause high rates of mortality and morbidity.

Breast cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in women, is diagnosed in low- and middle-income countries, mostly in late stages, when palliative care is the only option. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women and the third leading cause of death in most cases of women who have limited access to screening and treatment for precancerous lesions, with identification at a resulting advanced stage. Great inequalities in access to screening and early detection lead to variations in clinical outcomes and survival after treatment.

What solutions can be explored

Investment in innovative solutions for low-cost, high-quality self-testing and point-of-care testing devices is very crucial for universal access to diagnostics. The Truenat® Real-Time PCR platform is one such solution that features industry-leading PCR technology and can be deployed anywhere in the world with minimal infrastructure. With a growing menu of tests for infectious diseases, this rapid, portable technology enables early, accurate diagnosis and initiation of precise treatment at the first point of contact.

Truenat® facilitates the screening of STDs such as HPV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomonas and Mycobacterium genitalium and group B streptococcus screening tests are important for the health of the child and the mother.

Conclusion

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the already existing inequalities in health care and the current situation calls for an urgent need to address this and the lack of access to health care for women. Timely testing and effective screening of women leading to proper diagnosis will ensure a significant reduction in infection and mortality rates, resulting in universal access to health care.

(The author is the founder, director and CEO of Molbio Diagnostics. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)

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