WHO's Chief Pledges Improvements in Women's Health

The World Health Organization's director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, marked International Women's Day on Wednesday by noting the health problems women face around the world and declaring her commitment to improve the health of women everywhere. "I strongly believe that women hold the key to improving health, as agents of change in the family and in the community, and as leaders in all areas. Given the right support, women can be a positive force in ways that can lift households and entire communities out of poverty," Chan said.

"Women have particular needs and face specific health issues. However, the health needs of women are given neither the attention nor the prominence they deserve," she said. "Each year, for example, more than half a million women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth alone -- a number that has hardly changed in 20 years. In 2006, 74 percent of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa were young women." She cited violence against women and girls and said, "The health of women is given far too little space in plans for development and too little attention in many health agendas. Women's health is threatened because of the poor conditions in which many women work, the risks we encounter in our reproductive roles, and the discrimination and poverty that women face. I would like to use this opportunity to underline my commitment to making sure that the work of the World Health Organization will have a positive and lasting impact on the health of women."

WHO is working on these issues and trying to reduce the burden of infections, injuries, chronic diseases, mental health problems, and other chronic conditions that affect women, Chan said.

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