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5 Game-Changing Ideas To Improve The Health Of Girls And Women Around The World

From more contraceptives to better screening for cancer, there are simple actions we could take to drastically improve the lives of women and girls in the developing world–actions which could have an enormous impact on development in those countries.

5 Game-Changing Ideas To Improve The Health Of Girls And Women Around The World
Flowers via Shutterstock

Global health organization PSI’s team of technical experts, in consultation with health practitioners around the globe, has developed five simple ideas to deliver better health for girls and women, quickly and affordably.

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Lifesaving solutions to some of the most challenging health problems for girls and women already exist. But often, finding sustainable, cost-effective ways to deliver them poses a major barrier. Here are five bright ideas that are ready for pilots today.

1: Cervical cancer kills more than 270,000 women every year, yet it’s preventable.

The majority of women in the developing world are unaware of the dangers of cervical cancer. Fewer know that it is preventable if detected early. Most health providers do not offer screening, and where it is available, many women do not know about it. Moreover, preventive treatment services are often disconnected from screening, making them hard to access for women who live far from a health facility.

Bright Idea: Use health clinic franchises, mobile services and public sector partnerships throughout the developing world to offer simple and inexpensive cervical cancer screening, treatment, and referrals. Integrate cervical cancer screening and preventive treatment into the existing menu of services offered by providers. With a small investment, we could save countless lives and better integrate women’s health services.

2: Tuberculosis is a curable disease, yet it is among the top three causes of death among women aged 15 to 49. Each year, 3 million women become infected with TB and 700,000 women die from the disease.

Women are less likely to be diagnosed with TB because they are unaware of the risks associated with TB infection and fear seeking care at TB clinics due to high levels of stigma. TB screening and testing are typically unavailable in facilities where women seek other health care such as family planning services, further complicating efforts to reach them with TB care.

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Bright Idea: Develop targeted communications for girls and women about the risks of TB. Make it easier for girls and women aged 15 to 49 years to access TB care by introducing screening and diagnosis in health clinics already providing reproductive health services. Collaborate with National TB Programs to train these same providers to correctly prescribe and dispense high-quality TB drugs.

The result? Lives saved, more women educated about the risks of TB, and an integrated approach to women’s health.

3: Safe delivery should be available for every mother and child. Today, childbirth takes the lives of millions of women and children.

The international community has made it a priority to encourage childbirth in health facilities, the best and safest place for mothers to give birth. However, in many developing countries, women are unnecessarily dying as a result of childbirth because of limited access to health facilities. Approximately 1 million newborn babies die each year to largely preventable severe infections, accounting for nearly one third of the total burden of newborn deaths.

Bright Idea: Develop an improved, low-cost Safe Delivery Kit that includes basic supplies like soap, gloves, a razor, a sterile cloth, along with two notable, very important additions: antiseptic (chlorhexidine) to clean the umbilical cord to avoid newborn infections, and misoprostol, a medication taken after childbirth to prevent severe life-threatening bleeding.

Reach women where they already seek health solutions by arming community health workers with low-cost Safe Delivery Kits. Train them on how to use the kits, and why. That way, the kits can be used at home or at a nearby health facility.

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4: Every woman and couple should be able to decide whether, and when, to have children. Unintended pregnancies often have unexpected consequences for poor women, including health complications and even death.

More than 200 million women and couples in the developing world want to plan for the families they desire but lack access to modern contraceptives. For women in the developing world, unintended pregnancy dramatically increases the likelihood of health complications or death. The London Summit on Family Planning set a goal of reaching 120 million additional women by 2020 with contraception, but currently funding is inadequate to meet the growing need for free and subsidized contraceptives for the lowest-income women and couples.

Bright Idea: Treat provision of contraception as a business, through the creation of a social enterprise for a range of contraceptives sold in the private sector to target those who have the ability to pay. This shifts those who can pay away from free and subsidized access, freeing precious resources to reach those with the least ability to pay. Use profits from selling higher-priced products to subsidize other family planning products, providing greater options and access and bringing us one step closer to reaching those 120 million women.

#5: Life for teenage girls doesn’t need to be any more complicated than it already is. But millions of girls who need long-acting contraceptives can’t access them, putting their lives and futures at risk.

Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for young women aged 15-19 in developing countries. Yet there are very few efforts to reach young women with a full-method mix of contraception. New evidence shows that long-acting reversible contraceptives such as the intrauterine device and implant are safe and effective for young women.

Bright Idea: Through existing networks of health providers, develop cutting-edge communication and education programs that reach young women in urban and rural settings about a wide range of contraceptive options. At the same time, educate policymakers about the health and economic benefits of long-acting contraception and supportive policies for young women.