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A Race Against Time for Women's Health

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Women in urban environments, particularly in developing nations where the population has been exploding, suffer greatly from environmental degradation and lack of essential health services.

What will it take to improve women's health in these cities around the world and even in the poor urban areas of United States?

It could be something as simple as adequate latrines in urban slums, better lighting for safety, or easier access to healthy foods. It could mean designing and evaluating ways to reduce HIV risk-associated sexual behaviors, programs to assist victims of domestic violence and women in prison, or the creation of clinics using best practices with nurses providing the primary care

The University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the International Council on Women's Health, will hold its 18th Congress on Women's Health Issues in Philadelphia from April 7 to 10 to explore a wide range of issues related to improving the lives of women in urban areas through improved health care and redesigning cities to fit the unique needs of women.

This year's four day conference, "Cities and Women's Health: Global Perspectives" will bring together experts in the fields of urban design, health sciences, health policy, law, social policy, education and sociology to identify and critically analyze best practices and new strategies to enhance women's health in urban areas. The participants will also explore new paradigms of scholarship and practice that integrate environment and health care.

The conference comes at a particularly significant moment. With President Obama signing historic health reform legislation on March 23, poor urban American women should be able to get better health care in coming years. Right now, the report card is spotty for those living in the poor cities of the United States and it is not a pretty picture in the international arena.

There are millions of women adversely affected by civil wars, natural disasters and persecution and poverty. Mortality rates around the world for women in urban environments are shockingly high and health conditions are often unconscionable. Women in crowded and poor cities routinely confront cancer, obesity, hypertension, osteoarthritis, diabetes and depression without assistance or treatment while living amid pollution, stress and violence.

Women often hold a heavier burden due to gender inequities in society and their unique problems are often invisible to policy makers

Bringing about change and finding ways to better serve and treat this population will not be easy. It will require strong will, enlightened leadership, experimentation, a commitment of resources from local home governments, nonprofits and the international community.

But money alone is not enough. It will require new ideas and efforts to address glaring health inequities holistically with creative medical care and public health strategies that include social services and targeted programs for targeted populations.

In the drive for women's health, it is time to ignite the dialogue and then move from talk to direct action. There is no time to waste.