International employees: women's health
Towergate Health & Protection is calling for employers of women abroad to do more to support issues affecting their health.
Women experience unique health issues and conditions including pregnancy, gynaecological conditions and menopause. There are further issues, such as breast cancer and osteoporosis, that affect men too but impact women more often.
Conditions that affect women will concern men too. Partners, family members, colleagues and managers will all be touched by changes in a woman’s health and wellbeing, so everyone benefits when support is offered. Attitudes to such issues and access to support varies around the world, with some cultures being more open and supportive than others, and it is important that employers recognise this so they can offer access to help for all.
Sarah Dennis, Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection says: ‘It is imperative that support is available for women’s health issues both on a physical and mental level. Some employers are better than others at providing support, this might be from offering flexibility in working hours through to access to professional assistance. Likewise, some insurers have better propositions than others - we welcome all developments in this area, and we’d like to see more.’
Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women and the second most common cancer overall. There were over 2 million new cases worldwide in 2018, with Belgium having the highest rate, followed by Luxembourg.
Breast cancer is more easily treated the earlier it is detected, so it’s a good idea for employers to ensure routine screening is available.
Infertility affects an estimated 15% of couples globally, amounting to 48.5 million couples. Accessing treatment and support for infertility is harder in some countries than others. It is important, therefore, that employers consider infertility within their health and wellbeing programmes as some employees may find it harder to find support.
Some countries are more advanced in the help they offer, for instance, in Spain and Denmark all women have access to reproductive technology, including same-sex couples and single women. In Canada, fertility treatment depends upon the province. Ontario is the most advanced, covering one full round of IVF per female. Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick offer various tax credits to those needing fertility treatment.
Undergoing fertility treatment can be arduous, both physically and emotionally. Access to specialist advice and support can be a great practical help, likewise the ability to talk to a professional that can help with the emotional pressure can be invaluable.
Miscarriage and stillbirth
Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the uterus during pregnancy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a stillbirth as a baby born with no signs of life at or after 28 weeks’ gestation. In 2015, there were 2.6 million stillbirths globally, which equates to more than 7,178 deaths per day. The majority of these deaths occurred in developing countries, with 98 per cent in low and middle-income countries. Indeed, the stillbirth rate in sub-Saharan Africa is approximately 10 times that of developed countries.
Miscarriages and stillbirth have a huge emotional impact and it is vital that employers ensure professional help and advice is readily available to the woman and her partner, whether this is physical, practical or emotional. Such stresses can be particularly hard to bear when away from home, and employers of staff abroad have an important role to play here.
Attitudes to menopause differ from county to country, people will be reticent to talk about it in some countries, and they will be more open in others.
For instance, in Bangladesh, menopause is rarely discussed; very few women used to go for consultation and help, but the numbers are increasing with education and awareness in recent years. In a similar vein, the majority of Chinese women think menopausal symptoms should not be treated.
With half the population likely to experience menopause, the issue cannot be underestimated, indeed, within the USA, an estimated 48 million women are postmenopausal, and more than one in four women have undergone a hysterectomy by age 54. At the other end of the scale, in Chile there is no programme for the health of women in the post-reproductive phase, and there are marked differences in the ability to access suitable treatments depending on a woman’s socioeconomic status.
It is important for employers to be aware of the differences in culture and approach wherever employees are based, so that appropriate support can be offered to all relevant women in whichever country or region they work.
Sarah Dennis concludes: ‘International employers are in a unique position to be able to consolidate their provision for women’s health across all areas, learning from forward-thinking countries and employers and applying this to their workforce. We encourage employers to be aware of the benefits available to support women’s health issues, and a good starting point is being open to conversation and education.’
You might also be interested in
Sarah Dennis is Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection, which she joined in 2014 following over 17 years working as a consultant and in senior management roles in international health insurance companies including Jelf Group, Norwich Union Healthcare (Aviva UK), HealthCare International, Goodhealth Worldwide Ltd. (Aetna...