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On International Women’s Day, Governments Must “Be Bold For Change” to Improve Women’s Health

Global gag rule, rising burden of NCDs, tobacco use, and MDR-TB pose challenges for women in LMICs

Global public health experts Vital Strategies called for immediate action in response to threats to women’s health, especially those impacting women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies said:

“We must be bold for change – it’s the only way to improve health, the environment and opportunities for all, especially girls and women. Recent setbacks must be met with immediate solutions, otherwise women – and the families, communities and economies that depend upon them – will suffer needlessly. 

“We need to support the complexities of women’s health, including access to care, prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and incidence of recurring comorbidities, all of which negatively affect women’s health and opportunities. This is particularly true for women in LMICs.

“Women now comprise 20 percent of the world’s more than one billion smokers, in large part thanks to dishonest marketing from the tobacco industry that associates smoking with glamour and independence rather than disease. And women and children are significantly exposed to secondhand smoke. In addition to the diseases like heart disease and cancer that affect both genders, tobacco also causes predominantly female cancers like breast cancer and contributes to reproductive and neonatal health complications.

“Additionally, an increasing number of women are becoming overweight and obese, and developing obesity-related diseases. The beverages and processed foods often marketed as convenient solutions for busy women, and meant to appeal to children, contribute to this burden, as does an increase in alcohol marketing and consumption, linked to strategies from tobacco’s playbook.

Environmental hazards and pollution are an added serious concern. 1.7 million children, many of them girls, die before the age of five years as a result of environmental exposures – including toxic cooking fuels and tobacco smoke – WHICH can start in the womb of expectant mothers.

“We also can’t ignore the mounting problems of anti-microbial resistance throughout the world, especially in the case of tuberculosis (TB). More than three million women per year are infected with TB, which kills more women annually than all causes of maternal morbidity combined. Smoking is a risk factor for TB. The combination of tobacco use and TB infection poses a much greater risk to life, so an increasing number of women are at risk of death from TB.

“These big problems need big solutions, like those articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And to achieve them, we must be resolute in combating the vested interests of industries peddling unsafe products like tobacco and those causing environmental harms. We call on governments and civil society to be bold for change, implement policies to deliver their commitments under the SDGs, and to act swiftly to replace the estimated $600 million in funding lost in the recent expansion of the global gag rule.”  

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global public health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat