Women experience many unique health issues related to reproduction and sexuality and these are responsible for a third of all health problems experienced by women during their reproductive years (aged 15–44), of which unsafe sex is a major risk factor, especially in developing countries. Reproductive health includes a wide range of issues including the health and function of structures and systems involved in reproduction, pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing, including antenatal and perinatal care. Global women's health has a much larger focus on reproductive health than that of developed countries alone, but also infectious diseases such as malaria in pregnancy and non-communicable diseases (NCD). Many of the issues that face women and girls in resource poor regions are relatively unknown in developed countries, such as female genital cutting, and further lack access to the appropriate diagnostic and clinical resources.
It’s been a while since I’ve picked up any of these, but when I did, the messages weren’t nearly as body-positive. In fact, a quick perusal of other Shape magazine covers from the 1980s (I was probably still reading Seventeen then, but still) shows a bunch of celebrity cover models who would like you to get off the couch immediately, with demands like “Get Strong!” and “Push For Fitness!” Also suspect: “How To Think And Eat Like A Thin Person” and “Is Food Your Lover? How To End The Affair.”
Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth commonest cancer amongst women, particularly those of lower socioeconomic status. Women in this group have reduced access to health care, high rates of child and forced marriage, parity, polygamy and exposure to STIs from multiple sexual contacts of male partners. All of these factors place them at higher risk. In developing countries, cervical cancer accounts for 12% of cancer cases amongst women and is the second leading cause of death, where about 85% of the global burden of over 500,000 cases and 250,000 deaths from this disease occurred in 2012. The highest incidence occurs in Eastern Africa, where with Middle Africa, cervical cancer is the commonest cancer in women. The case fatality rate of 52% is also higher in developing countries than in developed countries (43%), and the mortality rate varies by 18-fold between regions of the world.
The major differences in life expectancy for women between developed and developing countries lie in the childbearing years. If a woman survives this period, the differences between the two regions become less marked, since in later life non-communicable diseases (NCDs) become the major causes of death in women throughout the world, with cardiovascular deaths accounting for 45% of deaths in older women, followed by cancer (15%) and lung disease (10%). These create additional burdens on the resources of developing countries. Changing lifestyles, including diet, physical activity and cultural factors that favour larger body size in women, are contributing to an increasing problem with obesity and diabetes amongst women in these countries and increasing the risks of cardiovascular disease and other NCDs.
Changes in the way research ethics was visualised in the wake of the Nuremberg Trials (1946), led to an atmosphere of protectionism of groups deemed to be vulnerable that was often legislated or regulated. This resulted in the relative underrepresentation of women in clinical trials. The position of women in research was further compromised in 1977, when in response to the tragedies resulting from thalidomide and diethylstilbestrol (DES), the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited women of child-bearing years from participation in early stage clinical trials. In practice this ban was often applied very widely to exclude all women. Women, at least those in the child-bearing years, were also deemed unsuitable research subjects due to their fluctuating hormonal levels during the menstrual cycle. However, research has demonstrated significant biological differences between the sexes in rates of susceptibility, symptoms and response to treatment in many major areas of health, including heart disease and some cancers. These exclusions pose a threat to the application of evidence-based medicine to women, and compromise to care offered to both women and men.