An introduction to women’s health in the Middle East

Dr Hina Naveed

By Dr Hina Naveed

Hina is the Marketing Manager at the Middle East Medical Portal. She is an experienced Pharmacist, writer, and speaker. Hina lives in the United Arab Emirates.

14 Sep 2018
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An introduction to women’s health in the Middle East

Women's health in the middle east (three women together)

Women have a range of unique health issues including pregnancy, menopause, and conditions of the female organs. Women can have a healthy pregnancy by receiving early and regular prenatal care. They should also receive recommended breast cancer, cervical cancer, and bone density screenings.

Women and men also encounter similar health problems, however, these problems can affect women differently, for example:

• Women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men;
• Women are more likely to show signs of depression and anxiety than men;
• The effects of sexually transmitted diseases can be more serious in women;
• Osteoarthritis affects more women than men;
• Women are more likely to have urinary tract problems;

Women’s reproductive health in the Middle East

Women's reproductive health in the middle east (a pregnant women with three children)If a mother suffers from health issues, then it has implications for her children. Furthermore, these issues can create an obstacle for social and economic development.

Throughout history, reproduction and child-rearing have always been the main role of women. The mother’s health is important as a healthy woman is more likely to give birth to a healthy child. Thus, women’s health is important. In the Middle East, the major health issues are related to reproduction. Almost half of the female population is facing such problems. Many women face complications before and after the birth of a child.

Common reproductive illnesses

Women’s reproductive health is affected by many diseases. Reproductive illnesses are becoming more common and they are having serious consequences on women’s health. The following conditions are some of the most commonly occurring reproductive health concerns for women:

• Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
• Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
• Endometriosis
• Interstitial cystitis
• Uterine fibroids
• HIV/AIDS

Causes of reproductive illnesses of women in the Middle East

Women’s reproductive health is the major concern for health departments. There are many causes of reproductive illnesses, including:

1.  A lack of awareness

Due to a lack of education and literacy, some women may not be aware of their health problems and/or not seek medical help. Furthermore, many women may not feel comfortable discussing these conditions publicly.

2. Unwanted and early pregnancies

In the Middle East, early marriages are common and there are high expectations to reproduce children straight away. Furthermore, there is an increase of teenagers engaging in sexual conduct. However, they lack sexual health education and this may result in serious reproductive illnesses which are also harmful to their general health.

3. Lack of family planning

Family planning services is very low in the Middle East, resulting in many pregnancies and a lack of attention towards women’s health. Due to a lack of ignorance and cultural values, the practice of family planning is considered wrong. Many people are still avoiding the use of contraceptives to limit their families. Again, it is women who must bear the burden of health issues all alone.

4. Poor diet and excessive consumption of chicken

In the Middle Eastern region, excessive consumption of chicken and a poor diet also leads to increased female health problems. Research suggest that chicken and boilers are dangerous for female reproductive health as they imbalance women’s hormones and leads to serious mental illness.

All these factors contribute towards reproductive health conditions of women and their overall poor health.

Why women’s reproductive health should be of high importance in the Middle East

REFUGEE CAMP, LALESH, KURDISTAN, IRAQ - 2014 AGUST 13 - A Yazidi people who escaped abuse from ISIS in refugee camp EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Credit: Shutterstock – Editorial Licence

Women’s health is of high importance for multiple reasons including social and economic development. Furthermore, healthy women are more likely to produce healthy children. Thus, investing time, effort, and money on women’s health should not be classified as a burden, it is a return on investment. If all countries, including the Middle East, invests in women’s health, then it will help the region to prosper. A United Nation’s (UN) report states that ‘countries that have focused on women health and limit their population have progressed a lot in economic and development.’

Many countries around the world, including in the Middle East are underdeveloped and citizens in these countries have poor living standards. Due to large populations, there is a lack of resources to meet their basic biological needs. Concentrating on women’s health in these countries is important to raise the standard of human rights and equality. Limiting the size of a family would lead to economic development and a healthy population. The living standard of a person will improve and it would lead to better education, better living style, and much more.

Women’s health and diabetes

There is interesting data, which suggests that when a woman is exposed to high blood sugar, she might incur more damage than men for the same level of high blood sugar. So, women with diabetes may be more vulnerable to the affects of diabetes on their hearts and their vasculature than men.

Recognizing the greater burden of cardiovascular disease risk in women with diabetes offers opportunities to address that gap. Medical professionals need to give greater attention to cardiovascular risk-management and modification – such as more aggressive risk-management to have earlier identification of high-risk groups for diabetes and cardiovascular prevention.

Those high-risk groups include women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and women who have had gestational diabetes. Having PCOS multiplies the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by three to five times. Gestational diabetes multiplies type 2 diabetes risk by seven to eight times and also increases cardiovascular risks.

What unique nutritional needs do women have?

Women's health - nutritional needs (Doctor with fruit)Calories

Most of the time, women need fewer calories than men. This is because women naturally have less muscle, more body fat, and are usually smaller. On average, adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. Women who are more physically active may need more calories. It is beneficial for all women to find out how many calories they need each day, based on their age, height, weight, and activity level.

Vitamins and minerals

Calcium, iron, and folic acid are particularly important for women.

Reproductive health

Women have different nutritional needs during different stages of life, such as during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or after menopause.

Health problems

Women are more likely to have some health problems related to nutrition, such as celiac disease and lactose intolerance, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as iron-deficiency anaemia.

Metabolism

Women process some substances differently and burn fewer calories at rest and during exercise than men do.

How does the nutritional needs change during life?

During the teen years

Girls ages 9 to 18 need more calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones and help prevent osteoporosis later in life. Girls need 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium and 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D every day. Girls ages 14 to 18 also need more iron than boys (15 mg compared to 11 mg).

Young adults

Nutritional needs of teenage girls in the middle east (Two girls)Teen girls and young women usually need more calories than when they were younger, to support their growing and developing bodies. After about age 25, a woman’s resting metabolism (the number of calories her body needs to sustain itself at rest) goes down. To maintain a healthy weight after age 25, women need to gradually reduce their calories and increase their physical activity.

Before and during pregnancy

Pregnant women need a higher quantity of nutrients than usual to support their health and the baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by their doctor during pregnancy. Pregnant women also need to avoid some foods including some species of fish and soft cheese.

During breastfeeding

Mothers should continue eating healthy foods whilst breastfeeding. They will also need to drink more water. Nursing mothers may need about 13 cups of water a day. They should be encouraged to drink a glass of water every time they nurse and with each meal.

After menopause

Lower levels of oestrogen after menopause raise women’s risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and osteoporosis, a condition that causes their bones to become weak and break easily. A woman’s diet also affects these chronic diseases. It is recommended that menopausal women talk to their doctor about healthy eating plans and whether they need more calcium and vitamin D to protect their bones. Most women also need fewer calories as they age, because of less muscle and less physical activity. It is advisable that women find out how many calories they need based on their level of activity.

Conclusion about women’s health in the Middle East

Women are an integral part of every society and their health is important. Today, in the Middle East, most of the women are facing serious reproductive health concerns. There are many factors that are influencing such poor health of women but there are some prevention methods as well. Women play a major role in the development of the country and thus we should focus on her health as well.

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