Women and men deserve equitable opportunities to achieve a reasonable standard of a healthy living. However, in developing countries, the interplay of various economic, social, cultural and biological factors render women underprivileged to attain their rights to decent nutrition, health care services and health information. Nevertheless, some issues affecting women’s health are shared, in part, by the opposite gender.
Inadequate access to nutritious food, and the resulting malnutrition, is perhaps the greatest dilemma for the health of women in developing countries. Indeed, undernutrition is the leading risk factor of under-five mortality in girls, accounting for around seven deaths per thousand children in low- and middle-income countries . Rising food prices, climate change, wars and conflict have caused unprecedented food insecurity in various parts of the developing world . It has been estimated that nearly 20% of the population of developing countries is affected by chronic food deficit . The Global Hunger Index reports that 969 million people live on less than US $ 1 per day, and that 923 million people go hungry everyday . Though malnutrition is a concern for both sexes, women are more vulnerable due to gender-based inequitable access to food . Women are also more likely to suffer the repercussions of food insecurity because of their biological roles during pregnancy and lactation and the resultant increase in nutritional demands. In pregnant women, malnutrition stunts the immune system and homeostatic mechanisms of the body, leaving them vulnerable to developing infections and maternal complications such as miscarriage and obstructed labor, besides increasing the risk of maternal mortality .
Contaminated water and poor hygiene and sanitation also account for significant mortality and burden of dis¬ease by causing diarrhea, pneumonia and other infectious diseases that indirectly cause malnutrition . In fact, indirect causes of malnutrition have been found to cause more death and disability than the direct ones . Infectious diseases perpetuate a vicious cycle of malnutrition, impaired host defenses and recurrent infections. A lack of availability and awareness of methods of contraception contribute to reduced birth spacing, thus further increasing the likelihood of maternal malnutrition .
The suboptimal availability of affordable, accessible and quality healthcare services also leads to adverse outcomes on women’s health. Optimal maternity care services are crucial to the healthy progression of a woman through her antenatal, natal and postnatal periods. According to an estimate, every year, an astounding half a million women succumb to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, with nearly all of these maternal deaths occurring in developing countries . A significant proportion of mothers do not receive antenatal care and assistance during delivery from a skilled health care provider, and...