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News Article

Girls’ Health Issues, Barriers for Well-Being

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 10/11/2021 - 18:39

The UN has made Oct. 11 the International Day of the Girl Child, a day focused on promoting the rights of girls and addressing the unique challenges they face, among them unique health issues. The day’s main target is to help girls and adolescents to grow into empowered women who can take better care of themselves and their families and increase their earning potential, serving as active, equal citizens and change agents and fostering economic growth for communities and nations.

Among the most threatening conditions for girls and adolescents in Mexico are obesity, malnutrition, HIV infection levels, high levels of suicide and depression, sexual abuse and violence.

Mexico is among the first countries when it comes to childhood obesity, a problem that occurs more often in the northern states and in urban communities. Obesity and overweight in the country are present in one in 20 girls and boys under the age of five and one in three between the ages of six and 19. In contrast, chronic malnutrition in Mexico is present in one in eight girls and boys under the age of five. This is prevalent mainly in southern states and rural communities; the most affected are indigenous households. Focusing on HIV, women in 32 countries who stayed in school past the elementary level were five times more likely to know basic facts about HIV than illiterate women. Education decreases a girl’s or woman’s risk of contracting or transmitting HIV to her baby.

Anxiety and depression occur in both genders but in the teenage years, girls are much more at risk than boys. Before puberty, the prevalence of mood disorders is about the same in boys and girls (between 3 to 5 percent). By mid-adolescence, girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder as boys, with a prevalence at adult levels of 14 to 20 percent.

Violence against girls in Mexico has aggravated after the COVID-19 pandemic. Girls suffer far more violence, rape, harassment and abuse at home than boys in Mexico, said Christian Skoog, a representative for UNICEF to Reuters. UNICEF’s report on violence against Mexican children found some 18,000 girls had suffered family abuse in 2010. By 2014, the number jumped to about 24,000. About one in five girls aged 15 to 17 (almost 700,000 young women) experienced some form of family violence in 2015, the report said. UNICEF said the most common form of abuse was emotional, followed by physical and financial abuse, while almost two percent of young girls suffered some form of domestic sexual violence.

According to PAHO, there are structural barriers that inhibit girls and adolescents to fulfil a healthy lifestyle:

  • Lack of equitable access to high-quality and continuous healthcare and services
  • Limited systematic, promotive and preventive health action in families, educational settings and communities
  • Limited opportunities for systematic and consistent participation of women, children and adolescents in their own health
  • Lack of strategic information to monitor health status and inequities and to inform the development of transformative approaches to health interventions
  • Lack of a multisectoral approach to address the determinants of health
  • Lack of a life course perspective and approach

PAHO and UNICEF have urged countries to act upon these barriers and have issued several recommendations. “We recommend working with key partners such as the Ministry of Health and Education, the IMSS, and the National Institute of Public Health, to generate evidence, provide technical assistance, and strengthen institutional capacities.”

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst