photo credit: worldbank photo collection
Sexual and reproductive health depends on a complex web of factors, including behavior and attitudes, social mores, biological risk, and genetic predisposition. Poverty can exacerbate these factors by limiting education and awareness as well as access to healthcare. As a result, many sexual and reproductive health issues disproportionately impact women in resource-poor settings.
One powerful example is cervical cancer. Of the 300,000 women that die from cervical cancer every year live, more than 85 percent live in developing countries. Cervical cancer is directly linked to a virus – specifically high-risk strains of the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). In North America and Europe, most women routinely get an annual pap smear that can detect abnormal cells before they become cancerous and life threatening.
Additional tools are now available to prevent and detect HPV directly. Advanced screening tests, including DNA-based tests, have proven significantly more sensitive and easier to use than pap smears. In addition, HPV vaccines can protect against the high-risk strains that cause approximately 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. If effective vaccination, screening and treatment initiatives were fully integrated into national health programs worldwide, the number of women dying of cervical cancer would be significantly reduced.
A number of international organizations are working to improve sexual and reproductive health for women in resource-poor countries. A number of companies and non-profit groups are developing and manufacturing low-cost, highly effective products specifically designed to fill the unique needs of women in developing countries. More resources are needed to support the development and distribution of these promising technologies.