Maternity Claims Gender Spotlight at U.N. Talks

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Non-communicable disease was a major focus at U.N. meetings this week. So was women's health. But critics said the two topics ran on parallel tracks, missing the chance to focus on women's vulnerability to illnesses such as diabetes and cancer.

UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)--The global costs of non-communicable diseases--a projected $46 trillion over the next 20 years--drew major attention at this year's week-long kickoff to the annual September meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.

Women's health was another attention-getter, attracting two leading forums here and a high-level conference hosted by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But the link between the two topics--non-communicable disease and women's health--weren't often made.

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Instead, the women's health forums were mainly focused on lowering global maternal mortality, No. 5 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), U.N. targets that countries worldwide have pledged to achieve by 2015.

"It reflects this very conventional, early 20th century notion that the most important thing about a woman is her reproductive life," said Elaine Wolfson, president of the New York-based Global Alliance for Women's Health, which hosted a side panel on anemia and women. "Maternal health is very, very serious. A woman's life is threatened during delivery and when she is pregnant. But the same could be true for her later on in life, as well."

Each year, approximately 350,000 globally women die of causes related to childbirth and pregnancy, according to U.N. figures.

More than 35 million people – about 18 million of them women – die every year from non-communicable diseases, including cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. Nine million of such women are under the age of 60, according to a 2010 World Health Organization report.

The World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health issued two reports this week on the economic impacts of non-communicable disease in terms of losses in work productivity. They also released "best buy" recommendations, such as further taxation on alcohol and tobacco, to offset this cost.

Neither report isolated the impact of non-communicable diseases on women.

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