Link Between Poverty and Women's Health
In February 2022, U.N. Women reported that an estimated 388 million women and girls will experience “extreme poverty” globally in 2022 — roughly 16,000 more compared to men and boys. Women make up the majority of the world’s impoverished and also face several health risks that men are less vulnerable to. Understanding the link between poverty and women’s health is important in eradicating the life-threatening conditions that many women in developing countries face over the course of their lifetimes.

3 Health Risks Associated with Poverty

  1. Malnutrition. Lack of access to nutrient-rich food is one of the most life-threatening consequences of poverty and it tends to have long-term effects on productivity in adults and development in young children. When families do not have enough food to go around, women are typically the last to eat, consuming smaller amounts in order to feed growing children or spouses. Although women may typically need less food to survive, their bodies require the same amount of nutrients as adult men, meaning that “they need to [consume] more nutrient-rich foods.” Unfortunately, these foods are often prohibitively expensive, resulting in nutrient deficiencies. Nutrition is especially important during pregnancy and micronutrient malnutrition can result in complications like anemia and hemorrhage, endangering the lives of both mothers and children.
  2. Infectious disease. Poverty-related diseases (PRDs) are communicable diseases arising from poor sanitation, indoor air pollution, malnutrition and other conditions of poverty. These include HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and respiratory infections like pneumonia. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, in comparison to males, poor women and girls face greater risks of exposure to HIV. HIV weakens their immune systems and makes them more vulnerable to other communicable diseases. There are several contributing factors to this imbalance, according to U.N. Women: unequal power relations with men, which make it hard for a woman to advocate for herself sexually; sexual assault and violence and lack of education or resources for women to protect themselves from the spread of STDs. Poverty can also push women to engage in unsafe transactional sexual behaviors in order to survive.
  3. Untreated illness. According to a 2008 study, developing countries tend to have poor healthcare infrastructure, making diagnostic and treatment services harder to access, especially for those living in rural areas with limited or expensive transport options. Marginalized women in developing countries often have what an AXA article describes as “limited control over their own lives.” A lack of autonomy and financial independence can put health care out of reach because women must depend on spouses or other male family members for access to services. Lack of education can also lead women to choose not to seek help for health issues, simply because they cannot identify the warning signs of poor health.

Gender-based Health Risks

Women also have unique health risks linked to their anatomy. Cervical cancer, for example, is “the most common type of cancer in developing countries.” Although it is preventable with testing, these countries typically lack the resources to adequately conduct testing. WHO reported that in 2020, 90% of global cervical cancer deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries because of underfunding for testing and treatment services. Maternal mortality is also a persistent problem in developing nations, where access to emergency care is limited and skilled attendants are often not present during childbirth. Preventable maternal deaths are common, with approximately 295,000 women dying “during and following pregnancy and childbirth in 2017” alone.

Working Toward Solutions

The link between poverty and women’s health is strong, but social and financial changes could be significant in solving the problem. Empowering women can go a long way toward improving health outcomes. U.N. Women’s Gender Action Learning System (GALS) training in Kyrgyzstan seeks to do this by changing restrictive social norms.

The methodology encourages households to consider the power dynamics between family members and to recognize the burden of domestic tasks placed upon working women in an effort to create a more equal playing field between women and men.

This, coupled with media training for journalists that encourages them to be more sensitive to gender differences and issues, will pave the way for women to be better able to advocate for themselves in other areas through broad societal change.

Every Mother Counts

Considering the link between poverty and women’s health, funding for essential services could be instrumental in improving health outcomes for women. For example, Every Mother Counts is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to improve health outcomes for women in developing nations. In Tanzania, the organization “support[s] the training of health workers, provision of lifesaving resources and community outreach and health education for women in rural settings.” Every Mother Counts has partnered with the Maasai Women Development Organization since 2017 to fulfill the specific needs of marginalized groups, such as Maasai women, in Tanzania. Every Mother Counts has improved the lives of more than 185,000 people in Tanzania.

Empowering women to make their own choices and funding essential services is crucial in reducing the impacts of poverty on women’s health. Because poverty and illness disproportionately impact women due to gender inequities, efforts to alleviate poverty and strengthen equality are vital.

– Abbi Powell
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in Guatemala
In 2010, American supermodel Christy Turlington Burns founded the nonprofit organization, Every Mother Counts (EMC). Following Turlington’s own challenging experience with postpartum hemorrhage, she realized that many women do not have access to the necessary resources for safe child delivery, especially when physical or mental implications arise post-partum. The organization dedicates itself to making pregnancy a safe experience for all expecting mothers.

By globally campaigning and targeting the critical flaws associated with maternal health, EMC has made significant strides toward reducing maternal mortality rates. In addition to its mobilization and awareness efforts, EMC currently provides funding for community-based programs in six selected countries. This specific roster includes how the organization aids maternal health in Guatemala.

Maternal Health in Guatemala

The most common postpartum complication and the main cause of maternal mortality is postpartum hemorrhage, otherwise known as internal bleeding. When untreated, the uncontrollable loss of blood may become fatal. Despite the dangers this poses, it is possible to mediate complications and prevent death when a specially qualified doctor or midwife is present.

Similar complications and the lack of essential healthcare contribute to the high maternal mortality rate in Guatemala: approximately 115 deaths per 100,000 live births. This alarming ratio represents the highest maternal mortality rate in Latin America. It also indicates the dire reality to which many expecting mothers are subject, including inadequate and unequal distribution of necessary prenatal and delivery services, insufficient access to necessary nutrition and overall poor social conditions.

Women living in rural areas — typically practicing traditional, indigenous lifestyles — are most at risk. In comparison to the national average, nearly three-fourths of maternal deaths occur among the indigenous population.

The combination of unstable living conditions, high fertility rates and the fact that doctors attend a low percentage of births reveal the validity of this statistic. For context, more than half of rural births occur under the supervision of under-qualified indigenous midwives, known as comadronas. Since many of them do not have the necessary skills or medical training required in the event of an issue, this leads to greater risks during delivery.

Long-term Advancements by Every Mother Counts

EMC’s contributions have led to collaborations with regional organizations in Guatemala. In partnership with Asociación Corazón del Agua, EMC has provided $180,000 in grant support toward Corazón’s university-level training programs for midwives, or parteras. Corazón is a national midwife program; recruiting students from regions with high rates of maternal mortality and incorporating indigenous traditions, such as certain birthing practices and plant-derived medicines into their training. Corazón also provides national protection for the midwife profession by certifying midwives as qualified to aid in childbirth across the country.

EMC also partners with Asociación de las Comadronas del Area Mam (ACAM). ACAM is a collective of comadronas that provides pregnant women essential healthcare and transportation services through its birth center and mobile clinics. In addition, the collective also focuses on upholding and teaching Mayan traditions in relation to pregnancy and birth. ACAM is able to continue these services and make an impact nationally based on the grants from EMC: totaling $226,000 to date.

Through its investments in midwife training, EMC is actively preventing maternal deaths and improving the overall quality of maternal health in Guatemala.

– Samantha Acevedo-Hernandez
Photo: Flickr

World Changing Celebrities
People often recognize celebrities for their music and performances but there are a variety of stars that use their fame as a platform to support charities, create foundations and change the world. Below are five world changing celebrities that are actively using their voice to fight global poverty.

Leonardo DiCaprio Protects Indigenous Rights

Along with spreading awareness and educating followers about climate change on his Instagram page, DiCaprio created the Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation which focusses on protecting all of Earth’s inhabitants. It has recently partnered with Earth Alliance to address and take steps to find solutions to major threats to the planet’s life support systems.

One of his most notable works is the protection of indigenous rights. Dicaprio’s Foundation helps fund programs focused on and led by indigenous people. It helps indigenous people defend their rights, create renewable energy sources, develop sustainable livelihoods and increase the political impact of advocacy efforts. As of 2015, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation accumulated $15 million in grants to fund innovative organizations and environmental projects focused on preserving and protecting the planet.

Christy Turlington Assists with Childbirth Safety in Haiti and Uganda

Because of her personal experience with complications in childbirth, Turlington is using her voice to advocate the importance of making childbirth safe for every woman. In 2010, she worked on “No Woman, No Cry,” a documentary that told the stories of pregnant women in four different countries: Bangladesh, Guatemala, Tanzania and the United States. She expressed the need for lifesaving medical care for women giving birth in case of the occurrence of complications.

She also founded the nonprofit Every Mother Counts, an organization that focuses on the health and wellbeing of mothers all over the world. As of now, her organization has partners in countries like Guatemala, Haiti, India, Tanzania and the U.S., and has impacted more than 600,000 lives.

Matt Damon Gives Access to Safe Water

Another of the world changing celebrities is Matt Damon, who is the co-founder of, an organization focused on providing families with safe water and sanitation. The foundation hopes that less time spent searching for water will allow children to go to school and get an education, improve health and help the economy. Damon’s foundation expresses the importance of access to affordable financing through WaterCredit. WaterCredit is a pay-it-forward system that makes it possible for household water and toilet solutions by bringing repayable loans to those who need access to affordable financing. In total, Damon’s foundation has benefited more than 20 million people across 12 different countries.

The Lewis Family Improves Access to Health Care

In the 1980s, Ryan Lewis’ mother, Julie Lewis, contracted HIV due to a blood transfusion from pregnancy complications. She lived through her prognosis and decided to create the 30/30 project. The 30/30 project’s main focus is to improve access to comprehensive health care by building multiple medical facilities worldwide. The project has placed a total of 30 medical facilities in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, Togo, India, the U.S., Rwanda, Bolivia and Puerto Rico.

The organization places medical facilities based on the needs of the area. For example, the Mbita Clinic in Kenya intends to prevent and treat major diseases, which include HIV, TB, malaria, water­borne illnesses and respiratory and heart ailments. The Mbita Clinic reduces waiting cues, prioritizes critical care needs, improves conditions for the staff and allows for service expansion due to the district’s high infant mortality rate and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. In total, the medical facilities have had 215,963 patient visits.

Bono Fights to End Extreme Poverty

In 2004, Bono co-founded the ONE organization. ONE’s goal is to end extreme poverty and preventable illnesses and diseases by 2030. ONE is a nonprofit organization with diverse groups of people. These groups come together and take action to organize, mobilize, educate and advocate for gender equality, youth employment, quality education and equal access to health services. ONE has secured over $30 billion in funding for historic health initiatives. It also helped pass the Electrify Africa Act of 2016, a U.S. legislation on energy poverty.

From actors to musicians, these five world changing celebrities put their public reputations to use by showing everyone that their voices matter and are an important key to make a difference and change the world.

– Juliette Lopez
Photo: Flickr

Every Mother CountsChristy Turlington is a world-famous model. Those in the fashion world know her from Calvin Klein, Maybelline and Versace, just to name a few of her modeling platforms. However, in addition to her modeling career, Christy Turlington helps poor pregnant women avoid death from dangerous complications during birth. Not only does she enjoy doing this more than she ever enjoyed modeling but she has also saved the lives of thousands of women who could then live their lives and care for their babies.

How It All Started

It all started in the birthing center in New York City’s St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital. Christy and her husband, Edward Burns, arrived at the center not long after her water broke. The pregnancy had been normal up to this point, and the birth of their child, Grace, seemed to go off without a hitch. She did not even need pain medication.

However, the placenta had become embedded into Christy’s uterine wall, causing her to bleed heavily. This is known as postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), and it kills 1,000 women around the world every day. The midwife began to suspect this was happening when Christy had not passed the afterbirth after 45 minutes. (Normally, it takes less than 20 minutes.) After another 25 minutes, the doctor had to come in and remove the placenta manually.

The following day, the excessive bleeding had stopped. Christy, knowing that the doctors would likely be able to save her life again, decided to get pregnant again. While carrying her second child, Finn, she and her mother took a trip to the latter’s hometown, San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Once there, Christy learned that PPH causes the majority of postpartum deaths not only there, but all over the developing world.

Turlington also learned that many pregnant women in the developing world have to walk to hospitals instead of driving; as a result, many simply choose to give birth at home, without any access to medical care. Learning this inspired Christy to found Every Mother Counts, a foundation that helps cut down on the maternal death rate.

The Charity and the Documentary

Every Mother Counts started out as an advocacy organization that simply aimed to make people aware of worldwide maternal deaths so that they could help. Their first act, spurred by Christy, was to make the documentary No Woman, No Cry. It was filmed in Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and The U.S. over the span of a year and shows what birth is like in each country. The bottom line is that The U.S. is disproportionately better at helping women survive childbirth.

While advocacy remains a large part of Every Mother Counts’s overall mission, the organization has branched out over time to include other avenues to help. They sell several products, mostly clothing, and use the profits to help have a greater impact on the lives of the women they are helping. They host running events to raise even more donation money for their cause.

Their website contains forms that allow people to call, email or tweet their congressional leaders to get them to support bills that will help poor mothers survive childbirth. Every Mother Counts has had an impact on more than 680,800 individuals, including mothers, babies, and health care providers.

The Success of Every Mother Counts

Using only donation money, Every Mother Counts funds grants for projects that improve and save the lives of pregnant women in poor countries around the world. For example, in Malawi, they spent $113,740 to give portable solar suitcases to 40 rural clinics, which provided them with a reliable source of electricity with which to run their equipment.

In Syria, $40,350 was spent to help train and equip six midwives to deal with life-threatening emergencies, including giving them home visit kits, medicines, cell phones and more. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, $10,000 went to giving clinics delivery and postpartum beds, emergency supplies and incinerators to get rid of medical waste. All of these efforts and more have saved the lives of over 400,000 women worldwide.

Christy Turlington has had a huge impact on women’s lives as the founder and CEO of Every Mother Counts. She has saved thousands of lives, made many U.S. citizens aware of postmortem deaths in the developing world and given health centers the equipment that they need to prevent many birth-related tragedies. Although she continues to accept modeling jobs, they barely matter to her anymore. The fact of the matter is that Christy Turlington helps poor pregnant women around the world avoid becoming another health statistic.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

Infant Mortality Rate in HaitiThe infant mortality rate in Haiti is the highest in the Western Hemisphere. While the rate has been decreasing since 2000, recent environmental disasters beginning with the 2010 earthquake have created many setbacks. Here are five facts about Haitian infant mortality:

1-      In 2016 the infant mortality rate in Haiti – deaths of children aged one year or younger – was 52.2 per 1,000 live births, whereas the U.S. rate was 5.6 per 1,000. The main reasons for the high ratio in Haiti come down to crushing poverty, poor health infrastructure and the lack of accessible healthcare.

2-      75 percent of mothers in Haiti give birth at home, without a skilled birth attendant or access to emergency childbirth services. The main reason for this is that much of Haiti is rural and underdeveloped. With 55 percent of Haitians living in rural areas, most mothers do not have access to proper medical facilities, emergency transportation, or skilled midwives. This leaves the majority of mothers in Haiti without the proper support through labor.

3-      The maternal mortality rate of the country was 359 to 100,000 live births in 2015. Most of the maternal deaths in Haiti are preventable as they are mostly caused by eclampsia, sepsis and postpartum hemorrhages. Reducing this ratio is important, as children who have lost their mothers are 10 times more likely to die prematurely than those who are with their mothers.

4-      Only 37 percent of births are delivered with a skilled attendant present. Haiti has one midwife for every 50,000 people according to the United Nations Population Fund. The 2010 Haiti earthquake harshened these conditions as the natural disaster destroyed the main school in Haiti for midwives, took the lives of many healthcare professionals and led to the emigration of other workers.

5-      With this said, there are nonprofit organizations that are working together to reduce the infant mortality rate in Haiti. Every Mother Counts is an organization based in New York that dedicates its resources to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for mothers around the world. This organization supports Midwives for Haiti in order to train newly skilled birth attendants with the goal to improve the quality of care and access to skilled delivery care in Haiti. Since 2012, Every Mother Counts has funded the training of 69 midwives in Haiti, who continue to deliver around 200 babies every year.

Midwives for Haiti is a grassroots nonprofit organization working in Haiti to reduce both maternal and infant mortality rates. The organization runs educational programs to train Haitian nurses in the skills necessary for deliveries, and then empowers these individuals to reach rural mothers that need care. The resources they have collected provide mobile prenatal clinics, reaching women across 23 rural villages. These efforts are crucial in reducing the infant mortality rate, as the World Health Organization has identified the investment in health workers as being the critical building block for healthier deliveries around the world.

With the support of these organizations, every year the infant mortality rate is estimated to be falling by about 3 percent and since 1990, the maternal mortality rate in Haiti has declined by 43 percent.

While there have been great health improvements in Haiti for pregnancy and childbirth, there is more that can be done. The U.S. can improve the odds further by passing the Reach Every Child and Mother Act. The bill would create reforms to increase the impact and effectiveness of The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for maternal and child survival programs. Additionally, the bill would provide USAID the right to implement new and innovative financial tools that are already helping countries in need. By supporting and passing this piece of legislation, USAID will be given another tool to save the lives of mothers and infants in Haiti and around the rest of the world.

Tess Hinteregger