March 8, International Women’s Day, “has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike,” reads InternationalWomansDay.com, a global hub for sharing news and resources about the day. While great strides have been made in the past hundred years to improve the health and equality of women in America, there are still areas of medical care and research where women are at risk; these areas represent a great opportunity for America to lead the way in promoting health and equality for women around the world. Some Research!America alliance member organizations work every day to bring increased awareness to health issues affecting women or to advocate for females in research and science careers.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) is a national non-profit organization that seeks to “bring attention to the myriad of diseases and conditions that affect women uniquely.” SWHR has helped make women’s health issues a national priority by advocating for greater funding for sex-based biological differences research and legislative and regulatory issues related to women’s health, as well as administering public educational campaigns on women’s health. WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is the only national patient-centered organization that focuses exclusively on women’s heart disease. The overall mission of WomenHeart is “to improve the health and quality of life of women living with or at risk of heart disease, and to advocate for their benefit.”
Though the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) research disciplines is gradually rising, there is still a significant disparity in the ratio of men to women in STEM careers. The Association for Women in Science, or AWIS, advocates for the interests of women in science and technology. AWIS seeks to educate the public about bias against women in STEM careers, the disparities in career advancement and underrepresentation of women in the STEM workforce through publication of fact sheets and advocacy activities.
The U.S. government is committed to improving women’s health around the globe. Through policies and programs such as the Global Health Initiative, women’s health activities under PEPFAR and an executive order to develop a U.S. strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, the U.S. has made significant investments in women’s health. At a recent event about U.S. priorities for women’s global health in the president’s second term, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said “nothing has a greater return than investment in women’s health” and promised that the U.S. will continue to operate under the “guiding principle that no woman should be denied access to the care she needs for a healthy life for her and her children.”
Find local International Women’s Day events through the InternationalWomansDay.com event calendar. In the Washington, DC area, look for a launch event for an international network designed to help women grow their careers through mentoring. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women, will be offering a free webcast of its International Women’s Day event at the UN headquarters in New York.
Since 1992, when the United Nations declared October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the world has come together on this day to recognize those who suffer and to renew commitments to fight poverty. This year, the U.N. is raising awareness of the violence and discrimination that accompanies extreme poverty. In addition to the threat of violence, the conditions of extreme poverty dramatically increase the risk of contracting neglected tropical diseases, a group of parasitic and bacterial infections that disproportionately affect people in poverty. This year, we must also raise awareness of NTDs and the research necessary to eliminate these diseases that affect more than 1.4 billion individuals worldwide, including people right here in the U.S.
Often referred to as “diseases of the bottom billion,” NTDs are closely linked to the poor living conditions experienced by impoverished communities. These diseases thrive in areas with poor sanitation systems, and inadequate shelters make individuals susceptible to bites from disease-carrying insects. Not only are poor individuals more likely to be exposed NTDs, but these diseases can trap individuals in a disabling cycle of poverty. Trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, results in an estimated $2.9 billion in lost productivity each year. Hookworm, an intestinal parasite that causes anemia and malnutrition, infects more than 575 million people worldwide and is estimated to cause a 43% reduction in future wage earnings.
On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we must recognize this relationship between NTDs and poverty and renew our commitment to eradicating NTDs. Cost-effective prevention and treatment methods do not yet exist for many of these diseases. More effective diagnostics and drugs could substantially improve treatment outcomes, while vaccines could eliminate the risk of NTDs altogether. Additional research to develop these new tools is not only essential for efforts to eliminate NTDs but is a crucial step for global efforts to eradicate poverty.
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern