Piecing the Puzzle Together

By: Jane Roberts, 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund

The opening of Peter Hotez’ op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times (“Diseases We Can Stop but Don’t” 12-12-2010) caught my eye. “Some of the world’s most glaring heath problems affecting impoverished girls and women are also some of the easiest to address.  The fact that we consistently fail to do so is puzzling.”

Yes, it is puzzling, but when all the myriad pieces of the puzzle are finally put together, you have the complete picture. And the complete picture is worldwide gender inequality.

Gender inequality is the reason the world does not come up with the 32 cent per year treatment which would prevent the “ghastly and acutely painful” ulcers from genital schistosomiasis which results in a woman’s social isolation and also makes her much more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

My particular interest is reproductive health.  I am the cofounder of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund, an 8 year long grassroots effort asking 34 million Americans and others to take a stand for women’s access to all that reproductive health entails with at least one dollar.  Please see www.34millionfriends.org.

Gender inequality is the reason 350,000 women die every year giving birth.  Gender inequality is the reason 2 million women are walking the earth with unrepaired obstetric fistulas. Gender inequality is the reason there is a shortage of family planning commodities.  Please watch the 80 second trailer of Population Action International’s Empty Handed video at www.empty-handed.org. Please visit www.rhsupplies.org, a consortium trying to urge reproductive health commodity reliability and security.

Gender inequality is the reason the world tolerates 20 million unsafe and illegal  abortions every year causing at least 13 percent of the pregnancy related deaths and at least 5 million cases of injuries, hemorrhages and infections requiring post-abortion care.

Gender inequality is the reason why sixty percent of the extremely poor as defined by the United Nations are women and girls. Gender inequality is the reason why, when there isn’t enough food,  girls and women eat last and least. Gender inequality is the reason why two thirds of the illiterate people on the planet today are women and girls.  And yet, every human being ever born has come out of the womb of a woman. When the world takes care of women, women take care of the world. What are we thinking?

According to Peter’s op-ed, the WHO and US-AID seem more open to including neglected tropical diseases as part of the women’s health puzzle in the $40 billion over 5 years Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.  Excellent!

After reading Peter’s piece, I looked him up and emailed him some of my thoughts. An hour later I had an answer and he introduced me to the Sabin Vaccine Institute (www.sabin.org) which he heads and where you can also read his op-ed.  Among other things, Sabin is dedicated to life-affirming vaccine commodity security.

I firmly believe that if there were true gender equality in all realms of civil society, that this world would be a different place with heath, education, and human rights being at the core of human endeavors. I also firmly believe that Peter Hotez and I see eye to eye. We must put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Jane Roberts is the co-founder of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund

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