IWD:How has Women’s Health Pressed For Progress over the years?

Looking back on women's health for #IWD

Montage of researchers
Some of our brilliant researchers working to improve women's health

From the 1860s when Florence Nightingale first revolutionised nursing and the health care profession, to the introduction of the NHS in 1948, then to the development of the first HPV jab to protect girls against cervical cancer in 2006, women’s health has progressed dramatically over the last hundred or so years.

One century ago roughly 4,000 women a year died giving birth, in 1964 there were 500 maternal deaths each year – and today that figure is 100. We have also seen a dramatic decline in infant mortality and a drop in cervical cancer related deaths.

However, there is still much to be done. Every day 58 women are diagnosed with gynaecological cancers and 21 women will die from these diseases today. Today 15 babies will lose their life at, or around, the time of birth, while the incidence of womb cancer has risen by 65% in 40 years. 1.5Million women in the UK suffer from Endometriosis – often in silence.

For International Women’s Day 2018 women’s health charity Wellbeing of Women are looking back on the #PressForProgress in women’s health over the decades and what more needs to be done to shape the future of women’s health.

Women’s Health Timeline

1860: Florence Nightingale revolutionised nursing

1929: The British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was founded to improve the care and safety of women in childbirth. And in 1938 the College was granted a ‘royal’ title by His Majesty King George VI.

1948: The NHS was introduced, providing free access to health care for men and women – previously it had only been available to men.

1964: Wellbeing of Women, previously known as The Childbirth Research Centre, was founded by leading medical professionals to reduce the number of women and babies who died during pregnancy and childbirth. An early grant established that folic acid deficiency was a factor in malformed babies. Now, pregnant women around the world take folic acid supplements for the health of their child.

1972: The Childbirth Research Centre was renamed Birthright and funded breakthrough research into safe laser treatment for cervical cancer.

1974: Contraception became available through the NHS. It is now estimated that 70% of all women in Britain have used the pill at some point in their life.

1984: Princess Diana became a patron for Birthright and during her time the Charity funded pioneering work into IVF.

“To long for a baby and not to be able to have one must be devastating. I don’t know how I would cope with that. And if my work for Birthright can alleviate that suffering for just one couple, it will have been all worthwhile.”- HRH Princess of Wales

Princess Diana looking over women lying in bed1984: Princess Diana opened Save the Baby Unit – the largest of its kind in the world –  for early pregnancy and recurrent miscarriage.

1986: Harris Birthright Centre for reproductive Medicine at Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield was established, offering the biggest stimulus to research into reproductive medicine the UK had seen.

1990: Laparoscopy was tested as a treatment for endometriosis thanks to Birthright funding.

2004: Birthright became Wellbeing of Women to reflect the shift in focus from childbirth and pregnancy to broader women’s reproductive health and funded research that helped women suffering from recurrent miscarriage go on to have a successful pregnancy, by identifying ‘Natural Killer cells’ in the mother’s immune system.

 2006: The first HPV vaccination was made available for school girls, after early research funded by Wellbeing of Women helped find the link between HPV and cervical cancer.

 2008: The Baby Bio Bank was established by two London Universities, University College London and Imperial College London, with funding from Wellbeing of Women.  This bank of genetic information aided on-going research into the four main complications of pregnancy including miscarriage, premature birth and pre-eclampsia.

2014: The Harris-Wellbeing Preterm Birth Centre was founded to find the causes of premature birth the biggest killer of babies and children under five years old.  Its work is leading the way to help more women have babies safely at full term.

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