Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

International Women’s Day and the Right to Health

March 07, 2011

International Women’s Day is an outstanding opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, past and present. 

It is also a day to reflect on what has not yet been delivered for women. Every day, 1500 women die while giving birth to a new life. Every year, over a quarter of a million women die from a cancer that can be prevented by vaccines. Most of these women live in the poorest countries of the world.

The UN Secretary’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health calls for bold leadership and unified action to improve the health of women and children. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) is a fully committed partner—from strengthening the systems that deliver maternal health services to providing support to countries with lifesaving vaccines.

Now, safe and effective vaccines exist that can prevent the infection that causes 70 percent of cervical cancer—HPV vaccines. That is exciting news.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women. Like HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer kills women in the prime of their lives, with enormous economic and social impact—the loss of family income, children left without mothers. Prevention is very important, as most women living in developing countries don’t have access to screening, and even fewer to treatment. HPV vaccines offer the potential to make a big difference to mortality.

While I was chair of the GAVI Alliance Board, the HPV vaccine was prioritized for introduction. Demand for the vaccine is high. Now, GAVI just needs the funding.

International Women’s Day is also a day to think of the future. Fulfilling every woman’s right to health will be a big achievement.

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