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Why is the world ignoring older women's health?

26 Jan 2011

"If young women's lives and children's lives are important, why not an older woman's?"

An older woman in Nowshera, PakistanI'm always highly cynical of when people write or talk about their "awakening" moment, their "a-ha moment".

Maybe I'm just envious because I don't ever seem to have one of those moments. But it happened this week. I think.

Apparently 80% of the older people coming to one of the rural health centres in Nowshera, Pakistan that I visited this week, are older women. This seems remarkable high.

I ask one of the doctors, Dr Wagma, why this is the case.

Older women's health issues

Dr Wagma said: "Older women come for many reasons. A lot of it we can put down to psycho-social causes, but the symptoms are hypertension, acute respiratory infections, vague general body aches.

"20% of the older women I see are suffering from psycho-social illnesses such as depression. But the other 80% are in real physical need of treatment.

"Most of these illnesses are either directly or indirectly related to post-menopause - arthiritis, osteoporosis, or uterus lapses and vaginal bleeding due to difficult and multiple childbirths."

What can Dr Wagma do to improve older women's health?

"Many would benefit from hormone therapies, as well as treatment for depression and hypertension. But these medicines are expensive and cannot be accessed publicly. It can be access privately, but this needs money.

"It also involves seeking permission from her husband for the money to be spent on this."

"In my opinion", says Dr Wagma, "every woman in old age is suffering bad health because of reproductive health reasons.

I wish someone focus on older women's health

"I wish someone out there cared and would focus on older women's health. If young women's lives and children's lives are important, why not an older woman's? I'm looking at myself in the future when I'm asking this question."

That was my awakening moment. Why aren't we doing more on older women's health?

Why aren't WHO or UNFPA agencies deeply concerned about this? Maybe they are but we don't hear about it.

Why don't our national governments, and international donors take this seriously? Why is the menopause still a bit of a joke, relying on older feminists and writers to draw attention to it?

Does reproductive health exclude post-reproductive women?

If so, is this right?

Your comments

Patricia M Sears

Thank You, Rosaleen, for reminding us that reproductive health is important to the entire life-cycle of girls and women! While I am aware of NGO work on reproductive health that is acutely aware of the importance of the rights of widows (many who become ostracized in their community because they have lost that male partner... who had the most power over her life, including permission to get good health care), too often it is not given the same amount of time and resources. Your post gave me an 'a-ha' moment in the reminder that still in older age so many women around the world are neglected because they don't have 'the right' to access voluntary affordable health care. They are dependent on their husband's permission. I recall working in Nigeria, in the north in a conservative Muslim community, and listening to a husband who after attending a health-care center w/his wife and learning from the provider how the care could positively impact not only his wife's health and well-being, it would also positively impact the children, him and his community because the preventions would cost less and save lives. He, the husband, was amazed and had his 'aha' moment re the value of his wife as a partner in their family. From then on, his wife was able to attend to the health and education of his family w/o his 'permission'. He trusted her as a partner. They communicated as partners. One other story. This one from Nepal. We were attending a National Condom Day event and being the only white woman (w/bright white hair!) I stood out like a bright light. A grandmother asked the translator to bring me to her. The translator hesitated because the woman said she wanted to yell at me. And she did. She asked why they were just now learning about condoms and reproductive health care! She had 14 pregnancies and only 3 children survived. She brought her daughter, daughter-in-laws and granddaughters to the event to learn how they could take better care of themselves and their families. And communities. Older women are worthy in their own right. They are priceless partners. They are influencers and solution-oriented. Older women can save more lives. Reproductive health care is a human right. Thank you, Rosaleen, and Thank you Help-Age for the good work you are doing. UNFPA & WHO need to be even better partners for women's health.

Laurel MacLaren

I recently participated in a discussion of the gender issues surrounding women's health in Indonesia, a country where economic growth has not been matched with improvements in maternal mortality. There is a distinct belief that gender discrimination prevents women from seeking services, and moreover when a woman dies from childbirth-related problems, it just doesn't cause public outrage. For older women, the stigma and lack of attention must be even more compounded, particularly among poor older women. Yet they are human beings with needs for care and attention, too, now aren't they? It also made me wonder what is going on culturally that older women can be neglected? Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking blog!

Mark Gorman

Patricia's comments & Rosaleen's blog really say it all. Reproductive health problems don't end with the menopause, and for many older women cause distressing, life-limiting problems. Reproductive health care is a human right for older women too!

Prakash Tyagi

Thanks for sharing. Good blog. It is about the constant ignorance of life-cycle approach within healthcare. I like Rosaleen's words - does reproductive health exclude post-reproductive age. If a lot of focus could be put on adolescense, pre-reproduction, why not on post-menopausal women. Let us hope this will be one of the main priorities for UN Women and let us be prepared to advocate.


Dear Friends Congratulations for your initiatives Active Age =Healthy Age And the domain of Health is the comvic element for Active and independent Old Age. So your contribution for promoting health in the old age is very important. Health in Old Age is born in the mind through Education and Continuous Learning. Consequently your program focused on the Health of Old Age in our times where the numbers of Old people are increased in our global society includes new ideals andit needs the support and the collaboration of all of us.

Debra Rogan

Great reminders of how older women's health is ignored by the medical community, health insurance companies, and the public at large! It's a man's world certainly is the short way to cover the explanation of why? This just helps us American women to appreciate we have a lot more power to empower ourselves over women in third and second world countries. Do you see women in Nigeria blogging about anything-is there even a percentage of women who have access to a computer?? Why are women's health issues in the United States ignored by health insurance companies? Because it doesn't give them enough profits?? How much money do the pharmacutical companies make off Erectional Disfunction medications, or I just saw a testostrone commercial on TV last night with many more ill side effects than benefits, as always, telling women to avoid contact with the gel etc, etc. Women in peri menopause, post menopause need testosterne too! We need combinations of NATURAL hormones to have a life free of mood swings, foggy minds, night sweats and hot flashes, let alone sexual desire. But are they available freely to us like ED meds or covered by our insurance companies? NO!! Nor will our legislators enforce laws to make them cover it. Did insurance companies cover our birth control pills when we took them to control when we had a child when we knew we were ready for one rather than overpopulate this already overpopulated world? NO!!! They would rather have babies with parents who shouldn't be parents, single women who leave their parents to carry the burden--because too many US women are too self serving to give babies up for adoption to good deserving parents who can't have children. And these same legislators wonder why we have so many millions on welfare and Medicaid! Isn't it past time for women to unite and force with lobbiest's of our own the medical insurance coverage of women's needs in child bearing years as well as post child bearing years??!! We outnumber men and outsmart them-why do we continue to be subservant and dependent on them to do the right thing for ALL of us when they clearly only care about themselves. Women Unite Now!

Marcella Griffith

It's not just men who are to blame, but Feminists claim menopause is a natural process that doesn't need medical intervention. One reason Feminists make this claim is to prevent the patriarchal Pharma industry from profiting using dangerous treatments and another reason is that they want women not to appear weak or vulnerable because of health conditions due to gender differences. I don't think equality means having to suffer in silence. We should be equal despite our differences.

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Rosaleen Cunningham
Country: Ireland
Job title: Freelance Media and Communications

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