Editor’s note: In 2010, Johnson & Johnson pledged to support Millennium Development Goals 4, 5 and 6 with a comprehensive, five-year Commitment to reach as many as 120 million women and children a year by 2015. This pledge reflects a shared vision of a world in which women are healthy and children live to reach their full potential. As a global health care company, our Commitment focuses on five areas where we have developed strong, innovative partnerships – and the potential to foster the greatest improvements in maternal and child health.
Today is International Day of Action for Women’s Health, which celebrates the work of women’s health advocates around the world to improve their communities and the lives of women and girls. The international community is being called upon to ensure a holistic and inclusive approach to women and girls’ health as the global health community moves beyond 2015, the target date set for achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This is a very personal and important issue for me since being exposed to the problem. I’ve dedicated my life to protecting women, especially African women, from HIV: as a field practitioner working in the hospitals of the Democratic Republic (DR) of the Congo; as an advocate at the national and international level fighting to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa and across the globe and as a researcher focused on the unmet medical needs of the developing world. I have also had the good fortune to work at a Company that is exceptionally committed to the health of women and girls.
As a medic in the DR Congo many years ago, I was struck by the sheer number of women in desperate need of healthcare, particularly for their reproductive health. These women, with little autonomy or choice, were incredibly vulnerable, both to complications in childbirth and to HIV infection. I’ve never forgotten these women.
In my decades as a clinician, advocate, and researcher, I’ve seen firsthand the effects of action – and inaction – on the health of women and girls. While the MDGs contain clear commitments, there are real opportunities to do more to better achieve these goals for women and girl’s health:
- MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty & hunger: Women are at the very center of the family and the community. Poverty and hunger cannot and will not be eradicated without gender equality to empower women and enable them to make decisions for themselves, their families and their communities.
- MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women: In many parts of the world, women still face staunch inequality. Girls are often blocked from attending school, women are barred from the workforce, and both women and girls are mainly valued for their role in reproduction. More must be done to provide women and girls with the knowledge and power to take control of their health and well-being.
- MDG 5: Improve maternal health: Adopting a holistic approach for women’s health is critical. Too often the international community views women through the lens of “maternal health,” yet not all women are mothers. Women must be empowered to make their own decisions regarding their sexuality and reproductive health and have the appropriate tools and resources to do so.
- MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases: Young women are the face of HIV in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, HIV prevalence among young women is more than twice that of young men. There is an urgent need for female-controlled prevention methods, ideally combination tools that work both as birth control and as protection against HIV transmission.in recent weeks, Janssen and the International Partnerships for Microbicides (IPM) expanded its ongoing collaboration on the development and access of dapivirine in sexual and reproductive health products for the prevention of HIV. Since 2004, I’ve been proud to serve on the scientific advisory board of IPM to help cultivate these critically needed technologies for women worldwide.
I argue that investing and advocating for women, girls and their health are key to sustainably improving health and development worldwide. In all my undertakings the human factor has been the key to success, and almost every time this human factor is a woman. Isn’t it logic that you bet on, that you invest in women if you want to be successful in changing the development paradigm of many countries?
Today is an important reminder for the need for action, but empowering women and safeguarding their health is a commitment we all must make and renew each day. We can all play a role in empowering women and girls across the globe.
Jens Van Roey, M.D., is the Director of Clinical Development at Janssen, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Partnership for Microbicides. He works on clinical development for HIV and TB drugs with particular emphasis on medical needs for the developing world. Jens also acts as an advisor to senior management on access to care issues in poor-resource settings. .content