US Health Secretary Speaks About Benign Neglect of Women's Health

(22.05.2012) Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary of Health and Human Services, was the main speaker at today's World Medical Association luncheon in Geneva, when she spoke about health services for women around the world.

She said that every country in the world recognised the huge benefits of investing in health, but in too many countries, including the USA, they fell short when it came to the health of women. Women were more likely to depend on their male partners to access health care. They were often less likely to have the resources they needed to get health care on their own. Health systems too often failed to consider the unique health needs of women.

In the USA they had a pattern of benign neglect. Women usually paid more for their health insurance because they were women. The plans often did not cover the basic services women needed. Often they did not even cover maternity care, as if getting pregnant was a rare condition.

Ms Sebelius said that every two minutes a woman died from complications related to pregnancy and child birth and these risks were greater in the developing world. When countries underinvested in women's health, whole families paid the price. In the US the Obama administration was now putting a new focus on the problems of women's health, including the issue of family planning and contraception.

For too long too many women and girls had had their lives marred by illness and disability because they did not have access to health services. Yet women were the gateways to their communities.

Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, Chair of the WMA, thanked Ms Sebelius for her inspiring speech and he said that the WMA was in the business it trying to provide the leadership and the vision to make sure that there was joined up health care.

Full text of speech by Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary of Health and Human Services