Improving the Health of Impoverished Women

Publication Date: 
July 31, 2015

This past March, Salesian missionaries in Mumbai, India helped organize a free health clinic for impoverished and marginalized women who otherwise could not afford care. The one-day clinic was held at the Don Bosco Provincial House and staffed by medical professionals from a nearby hospital. More than 550 patients received screenings and preventive education to improve their well-being and quality of life.  

“In India, being a woman -- especially an impoverished woman -- can have significant negative effects on health,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Already, the country struggles with poor health outcomes. One in four people in India will die before the age of 70 from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory illness or cancer. When you factor gender into the equation, those outcomes are even worse.”

This is because the odds are stacked against women and girls. Throughout the country, female inequalities -- combined with the cultural taboo of seeking information or help for female-related medical issues -- disempowers them from taking charge of their own health. And sadly, their inability to access or afford even basic care means that women in India suffer much higher rates of (and too often die from) easily preventable diseases such as cervical cancer.

“Poor women and girls are also disproportionately affected by chronic respiratory diseases,” says Fr. Mark. “They tend to live in industrialized and heavily populated areas where they are exposed to high levels of toxic fumes and traffic exhaust. They also spend time cooking meals over unsafe stoves that expel soot and other dangerous substances into the air.”

Therefore, the significant turnout at the event was a welcome sight for organizer Father Savio Silveira, executive director of the Don Bosco Development Society in Mumbai. (The society works to address unjust economic, education, health and other conditions among the rural and urban poor.) Women from a variety of Salesian-run self-help groups in the area participated in sessions to increase their understanding of the risk factors for diseases including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Medical professionals also screen the women for high blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol, in addition to gynecological health and kidney and gall bladder stones. Any patient requiring follow-up care received a referral to an appropriate provider.

“Their participation in the clinic was a crucial first step toward improved health and more informed decisions,” Fr. Savio says. “In tandem with our efforts to erase the root causes of poverty and gender inequality in India, we can begin moving toward better health outcomes and quality of life for all women and men.”

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