This article is part of a series of policy briefs on gender equality published by Women Deliver, a leading global advocate for girls’ and women’s health, rights and wellbeing. This piece also appears in our gender policy newsfeed.
Every year, one billion people do not receive the health services they need, while 150 million people face financial catastrophe, and another 100 million are impoverished by the costs of healthcare. While treatment is becoming more accessible for certain diseases, in a number of geographical contexts, it remains unaffordable and inaccessible for many.
Out-of-pocket spending on healthcare, combined with indirect costs such as transport, is a fundamental barrier to care for many, but particularly for girls and women.
In some cultures, women have limited access to household resources, have restricted mobility, or may be prevented from making decisions about their own care. Furthermore, women who lack adequate prenatal care, maternal care and reproductive health services during their childbearing years risk complications not only to their own health, but to the health of their families, communities and future generations.
While communities and countries face unique obstacles to achieving access to health services for all girls and women, there are demonstrated strategies that can help realize this goal.
This brief discusses some of the approaches that can help communities improve the access that girls and women have to a comprehensive range of services their enjoyment of rights physical and mental health.
Included among these approaches are: implementing women-centred care; integrating service delivery; optimizing the health workforce; innovating health financing through Universal Health Coverage, and boosting the prevention of non-communicable diseases.
Importantly, girls and women should be involved in the design, implementation, evaluation and accountability of policies, programs and services.
There are multiple benefits to building health systems that provide a continuum of care for girls and women. First and foremost, it saves lives and, subsequently, money. The returns on investment in health are nine to one, and an estimated quarter of the growth between 2000 and 2011 in low- and middle-income countries resulted from improvements to health.
Investing in prevention and screening helps reduce health risks and costs. Evidence shows that vaccinating girls against the human papillomavirus (HPV) over the next 10 years — a cost of only $10 to $25 per person — would avert more than 3 million deaths from cervical cancer. Additionally, screening vaccinated women for cervical cancer just three times in their lifetime would reduce mortality by another 20-25%.
Taking action to expand and improve the health workforce also brings about benefits in terms of job creation, economic growth, social welfare and gender empowerment, in addition to health system strengthening.
In order to power progress for all, many different constituents must work together — governments, civil society, academia, media, affected populations, the United Nations and the private sector. Governments bear the greatest responsibility to ensure that girls and women have access to comprehensive healthcare, but everyone has a role to play to reduce barriers to integrated services that promote the health and wellbeing of all.
Read the full version of the brief for more facts, solutions, case studies and policy recommendations.
(Picture credit: Flickr/DVIDSHUB)