Progress and challenges in women's health: an analysis of levels and patterns of mortality and morbidity

Contraception. 2014 Dec;90(6 Suppl):S3-13. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2014.03.007. Epub 2014 Mar 13.


Objective: The objective was to provide a summary description of the current status of women's health globally and trends since the 1990s.

Study design: A compilation and analytic review of available information was performed.

Results: Globally, a woman born in 2010 could expect to live some 3½ years longer than her sister born just a decade earlier in 2000 and over 8 years longer than her mother or aunt born in 1980. These huge gains in health have, however, been unevenly spread, and in many parts of the world, women's lives continue to be diminished by preventable illness and premature death due to social and gender inequalities and health system inadequacies. These are most acute in poor countries and among the poorest women everywhere. Health problems that are not adequately addressed in childhood, adolescence and the reproductive years have serious adverse repercussions for the children women bear and cast a long shadow on their own health as they age.

Conclusion: Improvements in health, demographic, economic, social and environmental conditions have brought significant benefits to women in terms of their health and development but are also associated with new challenges, especially for the poorest women. As the causes of death and disability change from those associated with acute conditions--infectious diseases and pregnancy-related complications--to chronic, long-term conditions--cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and mental ill-health--women will be faced with accessing and paying for medical care and medicines. Many of these chronic conditions can, however, be prevented by a combination of behavioral change and early detection. Paying due attention to the health of girls and women today is an investment not just for the present but also for the future and for coming generations.

Implications: The findings of this review have important implications for health systems as well as for broader policy dialogue on the underlying determinants of women's health including gender-based inequalities and discrimination. Health systems need to be structured and managed in ways that are responsive to the needs of girls and women, both for information and for care. Impediments to access--including distance, costs, lack of acceptability and discrimination--must be removed. Women themselves should be involved in designing and delivering health services that meet their needs as patients. They need support also in carrying out their roles as carers, both in the formal health care sector and within families and communities. Strategies to improve women's health must take full account of the underlying determinants of health--particularly gender inequality--and address the specific socioeconomic and cultural barriers that hamper women in protecting and improving their health.

Keywords: Adolescence; Ageing; Causes of death; Childhood; Disability; Gender; Inequities; Life expectancy; Reproductive health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death / trends*
  • Female
  • Global Health / trends*
  • Humans
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Women's Health / trends*