Chapter 27: The health of the world’s women
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When Paul Farmer described a parallel universe with ‘no relation between the massive accumulation of wealth in one part of the world and abject misery in another’, he was speaking about the inequality in resources between developed and developing worlds (Kidder, 2011, p. 218). He could as easily have been describing the disparities in health between men and women. Each year millions of females are lost to sex-selective abortion and hundreds of thousands to pregnancy-related causes. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more women than men are affected by HIV and uncounted numbers continue to die from unsafe abortions. In almost every case, being female is associated with disproportionately bad health outcomes. Not surprisingly, already wide disparities are even wider in developing parts of the world. Some diseases that have largely disappeared from richer countries continue to take thousands of women’s lives in poorer nations. Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer, for instance, live in India and China. A growing number of diabetes cases also occur in these rapidly developing countries. There are a few notable exceptions, of course. Breast cancer and cardiovascular disease continue to be afflictions found mostly in affluent nations. Even this may be changing. The greatest increases in chronic disease incidence over the last decade have been in low-income regions of the world. Whether this is the result of higher disease incidence or an artifact of improved case-finding is still unknown.

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