To help prevent and reduce the burden of illness or disability that uniquely or disproportionately affects women at each stage of life and ultimately to improve the health status of women in South Carolina across the lifespan.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY WOMEN'S HEALTH?
As practiced in the DHEC Women’s Health Program, Women’s Health embraces all the years of a woman’s life, from cradle to grave. We call it women’s health across the lifespan.
Traditionally, the term “Women’s Health” has been mainly an obstetrical term. It is viewed in the context of women’s childbearing and may otherwise be described as pre-conceptual health, reproductive health, family planning, pregnancy, and childbirth. While these are clearly important aspects of health referring to a critical time in women’s lives, the new definition of women’s health recognizes the limitations of this view. Women as child-bearers are not all of what women are about, nor should understandings of their health be confined to that.
The new definition of Women’s Health reflects the consumer-inspired trend to view women patients as whole persons with affected body parts, instead of body parts attached to or contained within a female body where the uterus is the first focus of attention. The new definition of Women’s Health also recognizes that women’s reproductive organs and hormonal system do affect women’s health their entire lives, demanding new research to understand these affects. This is seen, for instance, in girls who enter puberty at age seven or eight, in women taking hormone replacement therapy to relieve menopause symptoms, and in women diagnosed with breast cancer at age seventy or up.
WOMEN'S HEALTH IN PUBLIC HEALTH
Women’s Health as defined above is fairly new to the public health arena. Women’s Health Coordinators have been established in state public health agencies since the 1990’s when the national Office on Women’s Health (OWH) was created in the United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). The OWH’s mission is to address women’s health across the lifespan, including the areas of research, policy, advocacy, clinical care, and health promotion and education. OWH created regional offices around the nation which relate to the states. State Women’s Health Coordinators work with Regional WH Coordinators to accomplish the mission of OWH.
For public health practice in state agencies, this potentially means new ways of doing business. It means…
- Clinic staff incorporating a women’s health lifespan approach;
- Program managers integrating the women’s health perspective;
- Health educators gearing messages to the relevant issue for each stage of life; and
- Policy-makers designing more responsive systems.
In the Year 2000, women's health and public health arrived at a significant crossroads in their understandings of research and practice. Both fields recognized that demographic factors and social determinants play a key role in determining health status. The Healthy People 2020 Objectives for the nation’s health clearly states that we must address these other factors if we are truly to improve the health of a population.
Focusing on women’s health also means:
- Public health joining with new, sometimes unexpected, partners to pursue common goals
- Re-organizing our knowledge and attitudes around other sets of data, such as quality of life and community health measures, instead of death statistics cited out of context
- Giving new generations of women a prescription for better health through primary prevention, while arming them with the knowledge and resources to be savvy health care consumers.
The USDHHS Office on Women's Health, the Healthy People 2020 process, and the Community Development Movement recognize the importance of gender, race/ethnicity, income, education and access to care as causative factors affecting people’s health status. In addition, they recognize that health status should be seen, not just through the traditional public health measures, but through the community social determinants of health, such as racism, sexism, ageism and poverty. Please go to the Healthy People 2020 site for further information
For information about the women’s health at the national level, please visit the Office of Women’s Health.
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For more information about women’s health at the state level, please contact Jane Key, State Women’s Health Coordinator, at (803)898-0767 or firstname.lastname@example.org