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Women's health crucial for development

afrol News, 4 September - African governments have been called to "ensure that women are in a state of physical, mental and social being" capable of carrying out their numerous responsibilities.

"By virtue of their multiple roles," the WHO Africa director Luis Sambo told a conference of health ministers in Cameroon that "women constitute a key link in the chain of development."

Dr. Sambo advised African governments to implement an action plan that seeks to improve women's overall well-being to enable them enhance their contribution to development efforts throughout the region. These include the integration of women issues into national policies and programmes on women's profile, the development and implementation of adolescent-friendly programmes on information and education and improved clinical services for women, especially those living in rural areas.

He also proposed strengthening the capacity of women, families and communities with a view to empowering women, and setting up a national multi-disciplinary team of experts in health, gender and human rights to conduct research on issues specific to women’s health such as female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices.

Dr. Sambo further proposed the mobilization of resources essential for the effective implementation of essential interventions, and the development of an integrated communication plan to increase understanding of the importance of women’s roles so as to promote a change of behaviour towards women’s health issues.

"A huge majority of African women are still unaware of their rights to health, education and life," he said in a report, noting that many of them continue to be "victims of socio-cultural discrimination, harmful practices, gender-based violence, food taboos, forced marriages, and early, unwanted and excessive pregnancies."

"These problems coupled with the weakness of health systems are at the root of the high mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa where one out of 26 women is at risk of dying during childbirth."

According to the current WHO estimates, high maternal mortality rate is one of Africa's most tragic health problems. Besides, sub-Saharan Africa has 13 of the 14 where maternal mortality is above 1000 per 100,000 live births.

Based on a recent study, it becomes apparent that the region is incapable of reducing maternal mortality by 75%, one of the key targets of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Due to a number of health system constraints, maternal mortality was reduced by 0.1% in 2005, a recent joint study by WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank showed.

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