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Advancement of women's health in the African region

Article-Advancement of women's health in the African region

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Major progress towards improving women's health in Africa is opening the door to a more promising and health-conscious future.

Around the world, women play vital roles that support entrepreneurship, community development, caregiving responsibilities, resilience, leadership potential, and cultural influence. It is important to note that the proportion of women in Africa has increased dramatically, making up more than half of the continent's population.

The number of women in the African region increased by 73 per cent from 336.6 million in 2000 to an estimated 583.2 million in 2021. This indicates a growth rate of roughly 3.4 per cent per year. In 2021, women made up 50.14 per cent of the region's overall population.

"Communities, countries, and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women," said Michelle Obama. In light of this, how can we match the excellent, accessible and affordable quality of healthcare to the high-rising female population across the African continent? What has been done to advance women’s health and what can we further do?

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Through cultural hurdles, resource constraints, and inadequate infrastructure, women in Africa have historically encountered several challenges in obtaining access to high-quality healthcare. Over time, these difficulties have not changed.

But major progress has recently been made in the African continent toward improving women's health, opening the door to a more promising and health-conscious future. Maternal health has received more attention in Africa, which is one of the most noteworthy developments in women's health. Alarmingly high rates of maternal mortality have been seen in several African nations, primarily as a result of difficulties encountered during pregnancy and childbirth as well as restricted access to facilities and qualified medical personnel. Additionally, programmes aimed at addressing common health problems among women, such HIV/AIDS and cancer, have gained momentum, improving screening and treatment accessibility.

Integrating traditional and modern healthcare practices has further expanded healthcare accessibility while respecting cultural sensitivities. Nonetheless, persistent challenges, including socioeconomic disparities, gender inequality, and weak healthcare systems, necessitate sustained investment in infrastructure, workforce development, and policies addressing women's healthcare needs equitably.

In addition to existing progress, evidence-based research also holds the key to advancing women's health in Africa further. Dr. Huwaida Bulhan, Senior Clinical Operations Team Lead at Roche, remarks: “Significantly, public-private partnerships have spearheaded investments in integrated cancer centers, offering comprehensive screening and treatment not only for prevalent female-centric cancers like breast and cervical cancer but also for other non-communicable diseases.

“For example, as noted by the FemTech Summit 2023, examination of cancer care data unveiled disparities in the experience of women, shedding light on the urgent need for women-centric cancer care. The prevailing view is that cancer care frequently overlooks the holistic needs of women, especially in their roles as caregivers, and the social repercussions it imposes on children and families. Regrettably, there have been instances where healthcare services missed opportunities to tailor their approach to meet women's circumstances. Note-worthy of mention is the advent of HPV self-testing kits which has transformed cervical cancer screening, granting women privacy and convenience.”

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Expanding on this thought, she said that research initiatives now strategically prioritise diseases endemic to Africa, such as triple-negative breast cancer, leading to tailored diagnostic and treatment solutions. Furthermore, the integration of digital tools like AI algorithms, telemedicine, and telepathology services amplifies healthcare accessibility, particularly in rural areas.

Building on the progress made and addressing the remaining challenges, all women’s healthcare stakeholders owe it like a debt to continuously apply an all-hands-on-deck multifaceted approach, encompassing policy reforms, infrastructure development, and research-driven interventions to achieve this set objective of advancing women’s health.

By working together and leveraging sustainable innovative solutions, we can ensure that all women across the continent have the opportunity to lead healthy, empowered lives.


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