Medical Attention for Women Around the World

My sister recently gave birth to a sweet baby boy. He is perfect but he didn’t come without a price! She faced some setbacks on her way to the hospital -like her phone deciding to give out, some traffic, and finding a babysitter for her other child- but in the end, the hardest part was the time spent pushing in labor. Getting to the hospital and finding a skilled health care professional to attend to her was the easy part. My sister isn’t alone in that. In the US, 99% of births are attended by a skilled health professional [1]. In Afghanistan, only 12% of births are [2].

Around the same time my sister was preparing to have her baby I coded an article for the WomanStats database. It was about an Iraqi woman in labor who made her way to the hospital in the excessive heat of the day. When she arrived at the hospital she was shocked to discover that women in labor were being denied access to the hospital by ISIS because they had forgotten their headscarves [3].

This tangible example of the difficulties many women face in receiving adequate health care caused me to reflect on some of the obstacles woman face worldwide that I have become aware of during my time working for the WomanStats Project. If you are reading this post expecting a solution to this problem, I am sorry to disappoint you. While I do not know the solution to the problem yet, it has been an enriching experience to become more aware of the barriers that women all over the world face in receiving maternal health care. Becoming more educated about these practices has been a sobering experience, and one that has made me grateful for my circumstances. The United States still has a lot of progress to make-for example, a UN Committee that recently visited the US was troubled by the absence of the right of women to paid maternity leave [4] and in eight states including the District of Columbia getting beaten up by your spouse is considered a pre-existing condition [5] – and it is not my intention to excuse our country, but learning about different practices that take place across the world has given me a broader perspective on the issue.

Women may be denied access to medical attention for a variety of reasons. Some common reasons are that there may be a lack of specialization in obstetrical care, there may be taboos in treating women who are looking for reproductive/obstetrical care, treatment is too far away, and that treatment is unaffordable for many women.

Lack of obstetrical specialization: The low percentage of births attended by a skilled professional can be in part explained by lack of doctors who specialize in obstetrics or professionals trained in midwifery. The Director of the White Ribbon Alliance visited Malawi and said: “I visited maternity wards where there would be 100 women in labour in the courtyard, and only two working midwives.”[6] In Tanzania, a hospital serving a population of about 200,000 had no obstetrician or pediatrician and only one fully trained doctor [7].

Taboos: In Pakistan, women face difficulty in receiving medical attention because of cultural taboos. A BMC Women’s Health research paper stated: “Unless serious, women neither discuss nor seek medical advice for sexual and reproductive morbidities, because discussion about sex, sexual organs and their problems is a taboo. Except in life-threatening situations, the family does not take the woman to a healthcare facility, because taking a woman out of the house is considered disrespectful.” [8]

Distance/Lack of transportation: Living too far away from a hospital and without transportation is often a problem for women living in rural areas where ambulances are unavailable and the roads to the hospital or clinic (if there are roads) are bumpy. One woman in Tanzania made it to the hospital while in labor on the back of her husband’s bike. The bumpy trail was 50 km long and during the journey the woman experienced a prolapse, threatening her life and the life of her child [6]. Often getting a woman to the hospital requires pooled effort and resources (bicycles, men to carry the woman, etc.) from the community.

Unaffordable Treatment: Medical care for women tends to be expensive, and coupled with the reality that women are often kept out of the formal workplace or given a disproportionate amount of the family’s resources means that women do not have the means to pay for treatment, even if it was available to them. In Peru 65% of women do not receive health care in clinics for financial reasons. In poorer, more isolated places such as Puno, Huancavelica, Cajamarca and Cusco this rate becomes 90% [9].

The WomanStats Project collects data in order to quantify the effect that inequitable treatment of women has on the stability of nations and societies. While there is still so much that remains unknown, it is clear that not all women enjoy adequate access to medical attention. If a woman cannot receive proper medical attention it will be difficult to be a fully participating member of society and enjoy a high quality of life. The health and lives of her children will also be negatively impacted. To learn more and be inspired check out and try searching the variable DACH-PRACTICE-1 or CRPLB-PRACTICE-1 with any of the 175 countries we code for. I don’t know the best way to solve this problem, but I doubt we’ll be able to solve one that we don’t understand.


Works Cited:

[1]. “United Nations Statistics Division.” United Nations Statistics Division. N.p., 2000. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

[2]. Frost, Donna Clifton And Ashley. The World’s Women and Girls 2011 Data Sheet (n.d.): n. pag. Population Reference Bureau. 2011. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

[3]. “Double-layered Veils and Dispair…women Describe Life under ISIS.” The Guardian. N.p., 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.

[4]. “Women in US Lagging behind in Human Rights, UN Experts Report after ‘myth-shattering’ Visit.” UN News Center. UN, 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

[5]. Grim, Ryan. “When Getting Beaten By Your Husband Is A Pre-Existing Condition.” The Huffington Post., 14 Nov. 2009. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

[6]. Cochrane, Kira. “Millions of Mothers Lost.” The Guardian. N.p., 2 May 2008. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

[7]. Grady, Denise. “Where Life’s Start Is a Deadly Risk.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 May 2009. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

[8]. Rizvi, Narjis, Kausar S. Khan, and Babar Tasneem Shaikh. “Gender: Shaping Personality, Lives and Health of Women in Pakistan.” BMC Public Health 14.53 (2014): n. pag. Web.

[9]. Peru CEDAW.” UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 2004. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.


2 thoughts on “Medical Attention for Women Around the World

  1. womanstats says:

    Wow, this blogpost really gives some useful perspective! Isn’ it just so typical that these things are never discussed because they are “shameful” and they are “shameful” because they are about women. Just makes you want to tear your hair out!

  2. Aimee says:

    This is a great overview of some of the many problems that pregnant women face around the world. The examples given here are shocking, yet sadly, so common! It certainly is a start to begin looking at the data where maternal death and morbidity is concerned–as stated here, we can’t find a solution unless we really understand the problem.

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