BARCELONA, Spain – Matres Mundi, in conjunction with the International Societies of Perinatal Medicine, hosted the First Global Congress of Maternal and Infant Health here in September. The objective of the Congress was to improve the health of mothers and children in the poorest countries by creating a dialogue between health practitioners, researchers, policy makers, program implements and advocates from the Global North and South.
During the opening plenary, Dr. Frank A Chervenak, director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, examined the reasons why the global community has not adequately responded to the plight of women and girls in developing countries. Dr. Chervenak outlined several different biases that prevent women and children from attaining overall health and well being:
- Economic and political bias: Vulnerable people often do not receive the same resources as more privileged groups, contributing to poorer health among those living with low incomes .
- Age bias: Everyone should have the opportunity to live and develop through all stages of life. Children living in developing countries should have access to the health care they need to develop into healthy, productive adults.
- Bias against those who cannot speak for themselves: In many countries, women and children have no voice to demand the services and care they should be afforded.
In addition to those outlined by Dr. Chervenak, gender bias is another type of bias that should also be considered when discussing obstacles to health for women and children. In many societies, women are discriminated against because of their gender. This discrimination is apparent in differential laws, employment opportunities, access to services, and cultural and traditional practices. Furthermore, in many places women do not even have equal say over decisions involving their own bodies, including their sexual and reproductive health. These gender biases are apparent at an extremely young age – illustrated by selective abortions of female fetuses practiced in some societies. Young girls also face discrimination, as they may be forced to remain at home while their male counterparts attend school.
To truly move forward in improving the health of women and children, overcoming these biases and recognizing that health is a right for all, regardless of their gender, age, and economic and political status are essential first steps. To truly solve the problems created by bias in society, a variety of interventions will be needed – not just to improve health, but also to make society more equitable as a whole.