Focus on NCDs to save millions of women from premature death

Oxford researchers call for a new global agenda for women’s health

A new paper published today by the Oxford Martin School and The George Institute for Global Health will call for global and national women’s health strategies to focus on non-communicable diseases, which kill more than 18 million women a year worldwide.

‘Women’s Health: A New Global Agenda’ (PDF), the latest Oxford Martin Policy Paper, will be launched at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health this afternoon. Professor Robyn Norton, Principal Director of The George Institute and the report’s lead author, will call for women’s health policies to prioritise non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such heart disease, stroke and diabetes, which are the leading causes of premature death in most countries.

Ahead of the launch, Professor Norton said: “The Sustainable Development Goals include a target to reduce deaths from non-communicable diseases by one-third. We have a small window of opportunity before national strategies are firmed up and if these fail to deliver concrete plans to meet the 2030 target, then we will miss the opportunity to save millions of women dying prematurely.”

‘Women’s Health: A New Global Agenda’ highlights that seven of the 10 leading causes of death for women worldwide are NCDs, with ischaemic heart disease and stroke at the top of the list. The paper reports that significant gains have been made in women’s health in recent decades because of the focus on reducing unacceptably high levels of maternal mortality and morbidity.

“Thanks to these efforts,” said Professor Norton, “the women’s health landscape has changed significantly. The global agenda should now address the diseases that are responsible for the greatest burden of ill health, and for all but the poorest countries these are NCDs.”

The authors also call for a change in the way data are collected and how research is conducted. Studies show that diseases impact men and women differently. In order to improve women’s health, health data need to be separated by sex and researchers need to include sufficient numbers of women in scientific studies.



The Oxford Martin School and The George Institute are calling for:

  • Global stakeholders to prioritise a broader health agenda for women and adolescent girls, with a focus on the leading causes of death and disability - namely NCDs – and to promote an integrated, life-course approach to sexual and reproductive health;
  • The UK government to allocate resources in the UK to reducing female mortality from non-communicable diseases, in order to help meet the global target;
  • The Department for International Development to prioritise a broader, integrated women’s health agenda in low- and middle-income countries;
  • All agencies engaged in healthcare, especially in low- and middle-income countries, to devote resources to gendered analyses of their data;
  • Health research funding agencies, universities and peer-reviewed journals to require all new research to include women in studies and to separate data by sex.

The UK paper will be followed by further country-specific papers in The George Institute’s other areas of operation, Australia, China and India.

Meg Hillier, Labour and Co-operative MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, and Vice-Chair of the APPG for Global Health, welcomed the policy paper, saying: “I welcome this timely paper from the Oxford Martin School. It is important that women’s health is not just pigeonholed as sexual or maternal.”

Key women’s health facts highlighted in the paper include:

  • While maternal deaths declined by 45% between 1990 and 2013, to 289,000 worldwide, there are upwards of 18 million deaths of women from non-communicable disease each year.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, stroke, IHD and COPD account for three of the four leading causes of death and NCDs for five of the top ten causes, with diabetes ranked seventh and hypertensive heart disease ranked ninth
  • In India, seven of the leading causes of female deaths are NCDs. Diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infections and tuberculosis are the other leading causes. Preterm birth complications no longer rank amongst the leading causes of death
  • In China, NCDs and injuries account for nine of the ten leading causes of death for women
  • Female smokers have a 25% greater risk of ischaemic heart disease than men
  • Women with diabetes have a 44% higher risk of ischaemic heart disease than men, and a 27% higher risk of stroke

‘Women’s Health: A New Global Agenda’ will be published on Wednesday 10 February by the Oxford Martin School and will be launched at 16:00 GMT at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health Meeting, Atlee Room, Portcullis House, Westminster. The paper’s findings will be discussed by a panel including Dr Jane Dacre, President of the Royal College of Physicians, Dame Una O’Brien, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and Elizabeth Smith, Head of Profession for Health, Department for International Development.


For interviews, images and further information, please contact:

Carole Scott, Head of External Relations and Media, Oxford Martin School:
+44 1865 287438
+44 7825 931579