Women's health in urban areas

In 1948, the First World Health Assembly called for the creation of a ‘World Health Day’ to mark the founding of the World Health Organization. Since 1950, it has been celebrated on 7 April each year, with a different annual theme that highlights a priority area of concern.

It is a worldwide opportunity to focus on key public health issues that affect the international community, and it launches longer-term advocacy programmes that continue well beyond 7 April.  The theme of this year’s World Health Day - 1000 Cities, 1000 Lives - (focusing on urbanisation and health from 7-11 April 2010) - is a challenge to all healthcare providers across the globe, including those concerned specifically with women’s wellbeing, such as the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), a global organisation bringing together gynecological and obstetrical societies across 124 countries/territories.  

FIGO is uniquely positioned to highlight the challenges that face medical professionals in all types of environments, and it reaffirms its support for the recognition of World Health Day as an important fixture in the global health calendar. 

What is FIGO’s stance? 

FIGO has a vision that women of the world achieve the highest possible standards of physical, mental, reproductive and sexual health and wellbeing throughout their lives, wherever they live.  

The quality of maternal and newborn healthcare in some poorer urban areas across the world is inadequate, and this is reflected in many countries’ maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity figures. The theme of World Health Day in 2005 was: ‘Make every mother and child count’. FIGO would now add to this year’s call: ‘Make every mother and child count in every urban environment’. There are obviously many factors not directly under the influence of healthcare professionals, such as physical infrastructure, local governance and educational opportunities, but it is clear that improvements in urban living conditions - housing, sanitation, water etc - can help to alleviate many health risks and dramatically improve the wellbeing and futures of countless women, mothers and children. 

FIGO is also aware that women who dwell in urban environments tend to be at increased risk of violence and some communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS. At its recent World Congress held in Cape Town, FIGO unveiled groundbreaking work on the connection between sexual violence and HIV, and commissioned a professional in this field to lead a group of international experts to produce guidelines on this topic - to be published soon in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics - that can be used by FIGO member associations in their work with women.  

Relevant trends: 

Urbanisation and Maternal and Child Health

  • The rapid growth of cities has increased the visibility of unequal access to skilled care at birth and to emergency care for urban women.
  • Women who live in these slums often do not have access to basic health services. These women and their newborns are particularly disadvantaged because they do not receive appropriate care during pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Most caesarean sections in developing countries are performed among the urban richer and richest women, while often almost none of the urban poorest women have access to this life-saving procedure. A similar trend can be seen regarding access to skilled birth attendants. Only very few of the poorest women have access to a doctor and/or a skilled nurse or midwife during childbirth.

 (SOURCE: World Health Organisation) 


  • Prevalence of HIV in generalised epidemics is generally higher in urban areas; population-based household surveys indicate that prevalence is 1.7 times higher in urban than rural areas.
  • In concentrated epidemics, groups at higher risk of HIV owing to particular behaviors such as intravenous drug use, men having sex with men, or sex workers and their partners tend to cluster in urban areas, increasing potential for exposure in urban areas.
  • Although they may represent greater risks of HIV exposure, urban areas also tend to benefit from greater access to health services; the concentration of populations around health services underscores the potential for expanding and improving urban health services around HIV treatment and prevention.

 (SOURCE: World Health Organisation) 

FIGO’S work in urban areas

FIGO’s work includes two major projects dedicated to the improvement of maternal and newborn health in both rural and urban areas 

FIGO Maternal and Newborn Health Initiative (MNH) A grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation enables FIGO to help improve the lives and health of women and newborns in 15 low- and middle-resource countries with high maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity, especially underserved populations. Countries in the first phase of the project are: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, India and Nepal

FIGO Saving Mothers and Newborns Initiative (SMNH) FIGO is building and sustaining the capacity of the ob/gyn and midwifery societies in 10 developing countries to conduct essential projects relevant to the promotion of safe motherhood and the improvement of maternal health. Countries involved are: Haiti, Kenya, Kosovo, Moldova, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Uganda, Ukraine and Uruguay. The project addresses maternal and newborn health priorities, especially in urban poor and rural areas.    

Useful links







  • The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) is a professional organisation that brings together obstetrical and gynecological associations from all over the world. FIGO has a vision that women of the world achieve the highest possible standards of physical, mental, reproductive and sexual health and wellbeing throughout their lives.
  • FIGO is dedicated to the improvement of women’s health and rights and to the reduction of disparities in healthcare available to women and newborns, as well as to advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynecology.
  • The organisation pursues its mission through advocacy, programmatic activities, capacity strengthening of member associations and education and training.
  • Communications contact: Alexandra Gilpin,  [email protected],  020 7928 1166 www.figo.org