The following article is based on results from the 2021 report on the Hologic Global Women's Health Index, a comprehensive global survey on women's health.
Regular visits to healthcare professionals may add up to two years to women’s life expectancy, according to findings from the latest Hologic Global Women’s Health Index.
Data from the 2021 survey of women’s health in 122 countries show that women and girls who have gone to a healthcare professional in the past 12 months live in countries where their estimated life expectancy at birth is about two years longer (78) than those who did not go to a healthcare professional (76).
This adds to Hologic and Gallup research that found life expectancy to be associated with five dimensions of health and the availability of a national support system that allows access to care for women and girls, along with individual factors like a woman’s ability to meet her basic needs.
Hologic and Gallup’s findings reinforce how women worldwide can benefit from going to a healthcare professional. A significant relationship exists between a woman going to a healthcare professional regularly and the life expectancy at birth for women in her country. These findings are consistent when accounting for country-level differences.
When countries prioritize women’s access to care and treatment, they perform better on women’s health metrics. Australia, for example, has a national approach to improving the health of women and girls -- particularly those at greatest risk of poor health. The country’s government recently issued specific guidelines for preventive activities that are supported by its 10-year National Women’s Health Strategy launched in 2020.
The outcomes speak for themselves. Australia ranks third in the world on the World Health Organization (WHO) Universal Healthcare Coverage Service Index, Australian women have a life expectancy at birth of 85 years, and Hologic found that 93% of women in Australia had gone to a healthcare professional in the past year.
Going to a Healthcare Professional Also Linked to Other Dimensions of Health
The analysis of the association between going to a healthcare professional in the past year and country-level life expectancy at birth picks up a two-way relationship that reflects the complexities of an individual’s health.
Each of the five dimensions of health that the Hologic Global Women’s Health Index measures -- Preventive Care, Emotional Health, Opinions of Health and Safety, Basic Needs, and Individual Health -- are closely associated with a woman’s life expectancy at birth and going to a healthcare professional regularly. Together, these five dimensions account for more than 80% of the variance in a woman’s life expectancy at birth.
For example, researchers found that within the dimension of Basic Needs, women who have been able to afford food for themselves and their families are 29 percentage points more likely than women who have not been able to afford food to have gone to a healthcare professional.
The ability to afford food is also positively associated with longer life expectancy at birth. This analysis does not disentangle these associations, but it does point to another factor that can positively influence a woman’s chance to live a longer life.
Country Differences Illustrate Inequities in Access to Care
While going to a healthcare professional benefits women globally, not all women have access to care. Many confounding factors -- cultural, economic, situational and demographic -- may prevent or discourage a woman from going to a healthcare professional.
In 2021, the countries where the greatest proportion of women said they went to a healthcare professional in the past year were all high-income countries.
In these countries, where going to a healthcare professional regularly is accessible, life expectancy at birth for women ranged from 81 to 85 years -- considerably longer than WHO’s global estimate of 76.
The high estimates in both measures show that women’s reported experiences are consistent with data sets used by the WHO, and importantly, the HGWHI provides women’s experiences and perspectives on healthcare in addition to being an annual measurement of women’s health.
Additionally, these 10 countries provide many benefits to women that increase longevity as well as their overall likelihood to have been to a healthcare professional. Spending on government safety nets and other social protections, robust healthcare systems, equal rights and safety nets improve overall country-level outcomes regardless of a woman’s individual income or wealth.
The countries with the lowest proportions of women who had been to a healthcare professional in the past year have projected female life expectancy below WHO’s global average estimate of 76 years. In fact, in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, where there are challenges across all five dimensions, including Basic Needs, the female life expectancy is more than 10 years shorter than the global average.
Less than half of all women in these countries had been to a healthcare professional in the past year. In Togo and Malawi, only one in three women had been to a healthcare professional in the previous 12 months.
The differences between the highest and lowest countries illustrate the country-level economic, social and cultural influences closely related to a woman’s likelihood to have gone to a healthcare professional in the past year.
When women report healthcare experiences that reflect positive outcomes within the five dimensions of health, they have more access to healthcare and regularly go to a healthcare professional and thus, they have the ability to lead longer, healthier lives. When women and girls are healthy, they are able to play a more active role in their families, communities and economies.
The benefits of regular healthcare visits are threefold:
- First, going to a healthcare professional on a regular basis is crucial to the early detection of deadly diseases. Early disease detection and other benefits of preventive care lead to better health outcomes and increase longevity.
- Second is the benefit of education. The value of spending time with a trusted healthcare professional who can increase health literacy and a woman’s ownership of her health. The information based on the deep knowledge a provider shares with their patients allows men and women alike to make informed decisions about their personal health.
- Lastly, going to healthcare professionals regularly can build trusting relationships with healthcare professionals. These relationships facilitate sharing sensitive yet critically valuable information about physical and emotional health. Trust between a patient and professional allows healthcare professionals to better understand their patient’s medical history and family history and better equips them to be alert to subtle changes and monitor an individual’s health.
Many factors measured in the survey, including the five dimensions of health, are interrelated and influence whether a woman goes to a healthcare professional on a regular basis. There are also other external factors that make up the social determinants of health that further add to this complex relationship.
These findings underscore the complexity of factors associated with achieving better health outcomes. Hologic and Gallup will continue to explore this relationship in future surveys of women globally.
Read more about the Hologic Global Women's Health Index report.