Addressing the Challenge of Women’s Health in Africa : Report of the Commission on Women’s Health in the African Region

from World Health Organization
Published on 18 Dec 2012 View Original

Executive Summary


This report argues that women’s health is the foundation for social and economic development in the African Region. Women’s health is recognized as a human rights issue and should be promoted and defended as such. Women in Africa represent slightly over 50% of the continent’s human resources and so women’s health has huge implications for the Region’s development. Focusing in particular on the unacceptably high level of maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, the report calls for a fundamental rethinking of approaches to improving women’s health informed by an understanding of the sociocultural determinants that are so important in shaping it.

A core contention of the report is that a range of adverse socioeconomic pressures including inadequate health care prevents African women from realizing their full potential. Interventions to improve women’s health, focusing solely on “public health” issues miss the fundamental interconnectedness of health with other factors in society; recognizing this interconnectedness is the starting point for emphasizing the multisectoral approach required in the African Region.

To shed light on the often complex relationships between women’s health and their socioeconomic status, the report takes a multidisciplinary approach to evidence gathering and analysis, and adopts a life course approach to women’s health to reveal the specific challenges faced by African women at different stages of their lives. The approach shows how key interventions at early stages of women’s lives can have a positive impact both on their health and, subsequently, on their socioeconomic status.

The report broadly surveys the main issues related to women’s health without being exhaustive. Indeed, where there are gaps in the available data and research the report draws attention to them. Most importantly, the report sheds light on the interconnections between issues that have often been neglected when drawing up and implementing public health policies directed at improving women’s health, while at the same time underlining the many development opportunities in Africa which, with appropriately targeted and sustained investment, can have a profound impact on women’s health their well-being and their socioeconomic status.