PAHO Director expounds on importance of addressing gender inequities

Director of the Pan American Health Organisation Dr Carissa Etienne. (Photo courtesy PAHO)
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As the world gets set to observe International Women’s Day on Monday, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is stressing the importance of addressing gender inequities.

While speaking at this week’s PAHO press briefing, PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionally impacted women with cases of domestic abuse being heightened.

“Many women had to take on more at home as primary caregivers and are still struggling to resume their careers. As countries enacted lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus, there was a spike in violence against women. During these periods, calls to domestic violence hotlines soared by 40 percent in some countries,” Dr Etienne revealed.

She added that the health of women has also been disparately affected by the pandemic with women accounting for 72 percent of Covid cases in frontline workers.

“As the vast majority of the health workforce, women were at the frontlines caring for Covid patients and putting themselves at risk. It is no surprise that they accounted for 72 percent among health professionals and even though women are slightly less likely to develop severe diseases than men, some studies show women of ethnic minorities, such as Afro descendants and indigenous women, as well as migrants, are often at greater risk due to the overlap of gender and social practice,” Dr Etienne said.

Dr Etienne also spoke to the discrepancies in the care and services offered to pregnant women.

She blamed the lack of access to timely care and disruptions to prenatal services for an increase in maternal mortality in the Americas during the pandemic.

A pre-published PAHO study on maternal mortality across eight countries showed that from 447 pregnant women that died between March 1, 2020 and November 29, 2021, 90 percent were already experiencing life-threatening symptoms when admitted to hospital.

Nearly 77 percent delivered their babies prematurely and 60 percent were born with low birth scores.

It is for those reasons why the PAHO Director expounded upon the importance of prioritising women “to ensure they are shielded from the worst of the pandemic”.

Turning to the Covid-19 situation in the region, the Director reported that new cases dropped to 32 percent from the previous week, reaching 1.5 million. Countries also reported 24,650 deaths, a 10 percent decline.

These downward trends were seen throughout much of the region, with the exception of Central America where deaths rose by nearly 16 percent this week.

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