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New RCOG research highlights the huge impact of gynaecological conditions on women globally, predominantly in low- and middle-income countries

22 Nov 2023

This week new research by the RCOG has been published in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics which explores the global burden of disease due to non-cancerous gynaecological conditions.

The comparative analysis shows that years lost to disability (YLD) resulting from non-cancerous  gynaecological conditions in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) for women aged 15+ was greater than the combined morbidity from Malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS. This comparison by no means undermines the importance of coordinated efforts around malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS; rather illustrates how gynaecological conditions are severely neglected and under-funded on the global health agenda. 

The research findings constitute an urgent call for governments, international health bodies and donor organisations to address the huge unmet burden of benign gynaecological conditions (BGC) upon women globally, predominantly in LMIC.

The lack of priority given to women’s gynaecological health in policy and research is resulting in a large burden of unrecognised illness, preventable suffering and poor quality of life for women and girls. The Centre for Women’s Global Health addresses this issue through training, research and advocacy. The RCOG’s latest research examines the impact of gynaecological conditions upon women’s lives, analysing data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Database in terms of Years Lost to Disability (YLD), a measure of the burden of living with a disease or disability in years. It examines the impact that benign gynaecological conditions (BGC) such as endometriosis, infertility, heavy menstrual bleeding and fistulas have on women and girls’ ability to lead a full and healthy life. In clinical settings, these conditions are referred to as ‘benign’ because they are non-cancerous, but the life-changing and life-limiting consequences of these conditions should not be underestimated.

The authors found that BGC are a major cause of disease morbidity worldwide that is mostly borne by women in LMICs. Almost 8% of all years lost to disability (YLD) among women and girls aged 15-49 in LMICs were as a result of so-called ‘benign’ gynaecological conditions.

The research highlights how the long-term impact of these chronic conditions on women and girls around the world is often underestimated. Opportunities are frequently missed to prevent, treat and manage gynaecological disorders at an early stage – or at all – because of inadequate training, stigma and a lack of knowledge among healthcare providers on these conditions. Misdiagnosed and untreated gynaecological disorders can have severe health, economic and psychological consequences for women and girls. For instance, without detection and treatment, sexually transmitted infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Data analysis also shows that gynaecological conditions, such as abnormal uterine bleeding, can be a precursor to life-threatening conditions like post-partum haemorrhage. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of their links to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

As well as physical health, the research examined the social and psychological impact of chronic, undiagnosed or untreated gynaecological conditions. Gynaecological disease affects women and girls throughout their life-course, exacerbating other health conditions and restricting their full participation in society. For instance, menstrual dysfunction is strongly associated with girls’ absenteeism from school and conditions that cause incontinence can lead to extreme social isolation. Gynaecological conditions have a serious impact on women and girls’ quality of life and hampers efforts to reach gender equality. 

Dr Ranee Thakar, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

“This research underscores the critical need for governments, non-governmental organisations and policy-makers to prioritise women’s gynaecological health and invest in interventions that puts women’s best interests first. Without intervention, millions of women will endure chronic pain and social stigma, hindering progress towards sustainable health and gender quality.
“National governments, international health bodies and donor organisations must prioritise gynaecological health on the global health agenda.  Through strategic investments in research, health worker training and advocacy to challenge societal norms, decision makers can ensure every woman and girl has access to high quality gynaecological healthcare, fostering a healthier and more equitable future for all.”

Read the full paper here, with open access: The global burden of disease due to benign gynecological conditions: A call to action

Find out more about the work of the Centre for Women’s Global Health

  • Clinical and research
  • Gynaecology