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HHS Secretary Sebelius Remarks at World Health Assembly Gender Equity Panel
Remarks at the WHO World Health Assembly Gender Equity Panel
May 21, 2012

May 21, 2012

I’m pleased to be here with you today to support Director General Chan’s commitment to make gender, equity and human rights a priority in all of WHO’s work around the world.  This is an extremely important initiative and on behalf of President Obama, I want to commend you for taking it on.

Equity and fairness are basic parts of good health.

Regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, income or gender, everyone deserves access to the basic health care they need to reach their full potential.

Today, we have not met that goal.  And no one country alone has the best way for us to achieve it. We each have diverse histories, cultures and distinct health challenges. But we have all committed to helping one another increase health equality in our nations. And because of these efforts, the health of the world is improving.

As we join together to support WHO in its reform efforts, and reflect on the important work we’ve done, we also have to recognize that disparities remain.  And there is none bigger than disparities in women’s health.

The global health community knows that we need to invest more resources in women’s health.

Women make up half the population, but when it comes to health, women have been underserved or left out.

The results are tragic.

Every 2 minutes, a woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth and 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease.

Violence against women grows too, causing hundreds of millions of women permanent physical and mental health consequences or even death.

And while historically, global HIV has affected men more than women, that trend has changed.  Today, women make up 50% of HIV infections.

These health risks for women also put children at risk.  Every year over 7 million children die before their fifth birthday. Many from preventable causes.

That’s why the Obama Administration has made women, girls and gender equity a cornerstone of our Global Health Initiative.

But there is also more work to be done in my own country.

In any given year in the United States, more than half of women delay medical care due to cost and a third go without basic necessities such as food in order to pay for care.

That’s why we’re making it easier for women to get potentially life-saving preventive care like mammograms and will soon make it illegal for insurance companies to charge women more for coverage than men, just because they’re women.

And as part of our country’s battle against HIV/AIDS we will be releasing an HIV Gender Toolkit for US women that will ensure women with HIV/AIDS get the appropriate treatment and care they need to thrive.

There is a strategic reason to invest in the health of the world’s women.  Time and time again we’ve seen that when we invest in women, we not only improve the health of their families, we often improve the health of communities and nations.  That’s why we’re enthusiastic participants in next week’s meeting in Oslo, Norway.

Working with international partners, the United States remains committed to gender equity in health care.  We applaud WHO for integrating gender, equity and human rights as a part of reform.  We believe these steps will result in a more effective WHO by ensuring that these issues remain a focus of the global health agenda. And we look forward to working with you on this reform process, as we work to ensure that everyone has access to the care they need and deserve.

Thank you.