The 6th Central Asia Regional Conference (6th CARC)
Medical Women International Association

Dr Samlee Plianbangchang
Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia

Keynote Speech at the The 6th Central Asia Regional Conference (6th CARC) Medical Women International Association
Chiang Mai, Thailand
7-9 October 2012

Professor Dr Porapan Punyaratabandhu, President, TMWA; Professor Afua A. J. Hesse, President, MWIA; Dr Orapin; Distinguished participants; Honourable guests; Ladies and gentlemen:

At the outset, I would like to convey greetings from WHO to all participants and our best wishes for the success of the Congress. I thank the organizers for inviting me to talk at this august assembly. The theme of the Congress “Women and Health in the Challenging World” is indeed timely. I congratulate the Medical Women International Association for organizing this very commendable event.

Yes, in this challenging world, we need women to be more actively involved at various stages in the process of health and other social and economic development. Women are already the centre of health care in their families. With this recognition of women’s important contribution to health, the WHO South-East Asia Regional Office is contemplating holding a Regional Meeting on “Family as the Centre for Health Development”.

The primary purpose of this regional meeting is to highlight the important role of women as health-care providers in their families and, by extension, in their communities. At that regional meeting, we will discuss various issues involved in empowering women in order for them to play the role of health-care providers in the family and the community in the most efficient and effective manner.

Ladies and gentlemen;

In general, we need to do much more for women to improve their health, their education and other aspects of their social conditions and we need to ensure their increased involvement in economic development at national level. Healthy women is a key factor for their effective contribution to the achievements of “universal health coverage”; which is a worldwide health goal today.

Women are an important group of “health-care providers” who can reach difficult to reach populations, in particular. Women are also an important group of “primary change agents” in educatiing and empowering members of the family and the community to change health knowledge, attitudes and practices of people. These “change agents” can effectively enable people in community to take good care of their own health and health of their neighbours. This is in addition to their ability to take care of other social and economic aspects in communities.

If properly educated and afforded a proper place in society, women can form a critical force of “human potentials”; a “human capital” that could drive national efforts in the overall social and economic development. As far as health is concerned, women need special attention, because: they are susceptible to particular health risks, that need particular attention and care.

Each day, a large number of women in Asia still die from pregnancy and during delivery – deaths that could be prevented. For the South-East Asia Region, the average maternal mortality ratio is still unacceptably high: about 200 per 100 000 live births in 2010.

In several places of Asia, violence against women has been increasing in all forms. The incidence of violence leads to significant injury, disability and death. Still, it is considered sensitive to openly discuss the issue of “violence against women” in some societies.

Ladies and gentlemen;

The UN Millennium Development Goals are the roadmap to reduce poverty and to improve social and economic well being of people worldwide. The goals emphasize health as a “cornerstone” in moving towards sustainable development. To achieve such a sustainable development, the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women is considered to be an effective way to combat poverty, hunger and disease.

In fact, gender equality is an integral part of the measures towards the achievements of all MDGs. In most societies, women are expected, among others:

  • to obtain food ingredients, and to cook for family members;
  • to breastfeed babies, and to nurture children;
  • sometimes, to assist in home delivery of newborn;
  • to promote health and protect family members from getting sick;
  • to provide first aid or primary care to the sick in the family;
  • to take care of household chores;
  • to keep the family environment clean; and
  • to ensure safe water and sanitation for the family.

To achieve effective contribution from them, women must be given equal opportunities in education, jobs, access to health services, and decision-making relating to various family and community matters. It should be noted however that, despite the existence of gender inequality that favours men, women still live longer. As an example, Thailand in 2009, had 66 years of life expectancy at birth for men, while it was 74 years for women. This phenomenon is due to a number of reasons.

Distinguished participants;

In rural areas, women have much less chance to contribute to the achievements of MDGs, because they do not have privilege in getting access to, and control of, essential resources. In the efforts to end hunger and poverty, the International Women’s Day in 2012 has advocated the empowerment of rural women. With more power and more authority, women can contribute better towards:

  • food and nutrition security;
  • income generation;
  • prevention of child sickness and mortality; and
  • improvement of rural livelihoods in general.

The 60th World Health Assembly in 2007 urged Member States to pay more attention to gender issues in their national health development policies and to vigorously implement measures to ensure gender equality in all their national health programmes. When national social and economic development policies are formulated, it is important that countries consider at the highest level “women’s health issues” as well as issues relating to the role of women in the overall national development.

Ladies and gentlemen;

In the past decades, substantial improvements in health have been achieved globally. However, inequities in health still exist between: men and women; rich and poor; and urban and rural population.

The progress in addressing the inequity in health between women and men is still modest indeed. This is in spite of high-level advocacy during the past three decades, at both national and international levels. We need to devote much more efforts in pursuing equity in health between women and men, especially within the context of “health for all” and the “primary health care” principle. In collaboration with Member States, WHO has continuously addressed gender-related health inequities. It has supported countries to build their capacities for gender analysis and for the formulation and implementation of “pro-women” strategies and action plans. To improve health equity, especially between women and men, WHO has coordinated the efforts of other international partners to work cooperatively together towards this common end.

In 2011, WHO reaffirmed its commitment to mainstreaming gender, equity and human rights, in all its programmes at all levels; global to country level. It reiterated firm support to Member States’ endeavours in addressing interlinkages of gender, equity and rights and WHO has provided guidance in designing their health services delivery systems that are conducive to the improvement of women’s health.

More efforts are needed in dealing with the health of women in “special cases” such as the victims of violence. In 2005, it was estimated that one in every five women faced some form of violence during her lifetime. Collection, analysis and reporting of sex-disaggregated data are essential for effective policy and programme development in tackling women’s problems.

To broaden the gender perspective and to better understand women’s roles in health and other social and economic dimensions, multidisciplinary research is needed to generate the required evidence that encompasses all or most aspects of the issues involved in such roles of women. This is for effective policy and programme design to promote women’s health and women’s role in their societies.

All in all, addressing “Women and Health in the Challenging World” needs multisectoral actions that are undertaken through partnerships in the most coordinated manner at all levels. At the same time “women and health” is one of the best areas for implementation through the “health in all policies” approach, whereby all sectors have the “women and health” issue as an important concern in their respective sectoral development policies, and women and health is an integral component of their respective sectoral development programmes and projects.

This approach will need a lot of advocacy, especially at the political level. In the community, while a multisectoral process for tackling the issue of women and health may be more effective to be initiated and facilitated by community-based “health and social welfare providers”, this process needs professional back-up from relevant national education and research institutions.

Ladies and gentlemen;

The UN Summit on noncommunicable diseases (NCD) in 2011 places particular emphasis on primary prevention focusing particularly on risks and determinants of diseases. The summit also pays special attention to the services and care that are provided in family and community through the primary health care approach.

The WHO’s 12th Global Programme of Work (GPW), which is under finalization, puts life-course care as a pillar for health development. Life-course care is the care from “womb to tomb”; the care that is taken throughout the course of life. There is no doubt that women’s contribution to these endeavours is indeed tremendous. As active members of the family and community, women have a critical role to play in life-course care, care for health or otherwise.

Ladies and gentlemen;

In order to achieve effective contribution from women in all those aforementioned areas, all stakeholders, nationally and internationally, have to double their unwavering efforts, working together to ensure “good health and good quality of life for all women”; physically, mentally, and socially.

With these words, I wish all participants of the Congress very fruitful deliberations, and I wish them an enjoyable stay in this picturesque landscape of the city of Chiang Mai. Thank you.