Amid Grim Economic Outlook, Women’s Health is Still Best Investment
Smriti Zubin Irani, India’s Minister of Women and Child Development,

Diminishing democracy, growing nationalism, widening social inequality, growing climate-related crises and debt are part of the “unprecedented” trends of 2023, according to world leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Tuesday.

“Our generation has reached a turning point confronted by truly existential problems: climate change, exploitation of nature, nuclear possible incidents or even worse, extreme poverty and violence. They all can lead to the extinction of large parts of our global population,” warned WEF founder Klaus Schwab.

Swiss president Alain Berset warned that “extreme inequality undermines social cohesion, creates resentments, causing us to seek scapegoats and it is politically toxic, eating away at our faith in democracy”.

Only 20% of the world’s population lives in democracies, down from 50% 30 years ago, said Berset.

Inequality was exacerbated by climate change, the Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic, added Berst, pointing out that 300 million people faced “acute risk of hunger”.

Investment in women’s health


UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem

But investment in basic healthcare for women still offers one of the best returns on investment.

UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem said that “there are still 300 million women who would want to access family planning that are knocking on the door of a clinic and nobody is there.

“We’ve seen the wisdom and the high return of almost $10 for every dollar you invest in family planning and maternal health,” Kanem added.

Smriti Zubin Irani, India’s Minister of Women and Child Development, said her government’s introduction of health insurance for the country’s poorest families had resulted in the “unprecedented number “ of 120 million Indian women being scanned for cervical and breast cancer.

Irani said that there is “a conscious effort on behalf of the government to ensure that the whole life cycle needs of a woman’s health are looked after by every government entity”.

After a 40-year wait, a Bill allowing abortion from 24 weeks “passed both houses of parliament without a whimper”, said Irani.

In addition, 703 emergency and crisis centres for women had helped 220 million women in distress, and “given them medical, psychological and police help so that they can transition from challenges towards solutions”. 

“When you invest in the health of a woman, you invest in the health of community. When you empower her financially, she tends to spend more on health and education.”

Bio-pharmaceutical company Organon is focusing on “femtech” solutions to address women’s health, said CEO Kevin Ali.

In the 18 months since it was listed on the New York stock exchange, Organon has “done eight deals’, said Ali. “Two are in the medical device space, one to solve the issues of postpartum haemorrhage, and one to solve some of the issues around minimally invasive hysterectomy,” said Ali.

His company is also investing in “new mechanisms of action for endometriosis, preterm labour and polycystic ovary syndrome”.

Nutrition and pregnancy

Mark Suzman, Gates Foundation CEO

“Nutrition is such a critical enabler for healthy pregnancies and healthy birth,” said Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman.

“An area where we are prioritising investment right now is treatments for anaemia, which is actually one of the most fundamental challenges facing women and particularly women in pregnancy.”

While a number of companies were researching the microbiome “to figure out how to do better weight loss”, the Gates Foundation was focusing on “what elements of treating the microbiome can actually be most important in the antenatal and postnatal period for women and children”, added Suzman.

“We were also able to do some research as a public good which showed the efficacy of a single dose of HPV vaccine [to prevent cervical cancer] was as good as multiple doses. That basically allowed you to vaccinate twice as many children,” he added.

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