The pandemic and other global events of the past few years have shined a light on the many gaps that exist when it comes to health care for all. Among the most striking disparities is the gender gap – but Organon, the largest global healthcare company dedicated to women’s health is facing this societal challenge head on, working to accelerate progress and make women’s health a priority
When it comes to women’s health, what are the greatest unmet needs?
People are waking up to the fact that there are deep disparities when it comes to almost every aspect of women’s health, and we have a responsibility to address them. The investment in women’s health has been too little for too long, despite the fact that women face significant unmet medical needs and represent half of the world’s population.
Today, only about 4% of all healthcare research and development is focused on women’s health. And women feel the impact of this lack of investment at every stage of their lives: approximately 10% of women have endometriosis, a chronic and painful reproductive health condition with no long-term treatment options; multiple barriers prevent women from accessing fertility treatment and care; maternal mortality and morbidity rates are shockingly high, including from complications such as postpartum haemorrhage; and menopause – which all women experience – has a number of challenging symptoms with few options for treatment. That’s not even touching cancers or chronic illnesses that disproportionately affect women.
The costs we pay for not addressing these unmet needs are huge – not just for individual women, but for society. By investing in women and addressing gender-related disparities in health, we can create strong families, communities and economies, and help all women and girls achieve their potential.
The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women’s health. What area should be prioritised for investment?
One critical area that has been negatively impacted by the pandemic is access to comprehensive family planning services. The United Nations Population Fund called unintended pregnancies a global public health crisis, highlighting recent data that shows nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended.
The decision of when – and if – you are going to start a family is deeply important and personal. Every woman deserves to be in charge of their reproductive health and yet so much is dependent on access to family planning. Unfortunately, more than 160 million women around the world do not have access to contraception. Too often, access to contraceptive options depends on who you are and where you live: nearly 60% of all women and girls with unmet needs live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and girls and women aged 15 to 24 years have the highest unmet needs globally. Given that an unintended pregnancy can have a significant impact on a girl or a young woman’s life, her employment and – of course – her health, this is a massive gap that needs to be closed.
I should also note the importance of education in tackling unintended pregnancies. An estimated 33 million unintended pregnancies are a result of contraceptive failure or incorrect use, so it’s important that everyone is informed about the different methods of contraception available and how to best use them.
And it’s hard to imagine a more valuable investment: every dollar spent on family planning globally is estimated to yield $120 in health and economic benefits.
How can we achieve measurable progress?
Women’s health and gender equity are critical global priorities, as set forth in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Every investment in women and girls is an investment in the health of our society. But no one group can achieve these goals alone. It will take all sectors, working together, to accelerate progress and help create the change we want to see in the world.
At Organon, we’re playing our part. Earlier this year, we launched our Her Promise platform, steeped in our purpose to help the 4 billion women and girls in the world achieve their promise through better health. Included in that is the bold ambition we set for ourselves to prevent 120 million unintended pregnancies by 2030 in the least developed countries. We have a number of programmes and partnerships to help us achieve that goal. Our largest is the Her Promise Access Initiative, which is part of a multi-agency global effort to improve access to family planning information, training and contraceptive options, especially in low-income countries, where there is such a disproportionate need.
We have a number of other goals and commitments to improve the health of women. Critically, we’re focused on accelerating innovation and introducing and expanding access to health options that help secure her promise and equitable place in the world. This is not only during her reproductive years, but at every stage of life. We are one of the few healthcare companies that is dedicated to pursuing scientific innovations for women’s health – we’re excited about our progress, and we are just getting started.
What’s your call to action?
There is a strong societal and economic case for action to promote gender equity and women’s health. Investing in women’s equality could add between $12 trillion and $28 trillion to global growth by 2025. Contraceptives and access to sexual and reproductive health care and information is a critical link to get there. We are calling on all stakeholders – governments, the private sector, civil society – for their commitment and to make the choice to invest in the health of women.