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Current Issues: Access to Health Services

Dearborn, Michigan. 2002. Dr. Leila Haddad examines Foazia Almadhagi. Muslim women in the United States face some unique challenges in obtaining quality health care because of cultural and religious differences. Photo Credit: Carlos Osorio/AP Images.

In Islam health is often regarded as one of God’s greatest blessings.1 Prophet Mohammed said: “Ask Allah for forgiveness and health, for after being granted certainty, one is given nothing better than health.” Islam encourages the gaining of medical knowledge and seeking treatment. In another saying, the Prophet said, "Allah has sent down both the disease and the cure, and He has appointed a cure for every disease, so treat yourselves medically but use nothing unlawful.”2 Despite this, war, poverty, lack of resources, social stigma about gender and particular diseases (such as mental health disorders, cancer, HIV) deprive many Muslim women from having adequate healthcare.

In the Muslim world, reluctance by women seeking medical care has resulted in deadly consequences. Breast cancer is the number one killer of women in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. A large number of women die because they do not seek treatment in a timely fashion. According to Dr. Al Amoudi, Saudi gynecologist and founder of the first Breast Cancer Center in Jeddah, 70 percent of breast cancer cases are not reported in Saudi Arabia until they are at a very late stage. Al Amoudi has urged the kingdom's clergymen to "enlighten the people and take up the issue of women's health in their sermons." She is the first in Saudi Arabia to share her personal battle with the disease and the first to break the silence against this taboo disease. She was ranked as the fifth most influential Arab.3

Many Middle Eastern countries have experienced a decline in fertility rates. In many nations, such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Iran, the government has adopted campaigns to promote family planning. For example, in Indonesia, the institutionalized family planning program has reduced the fertility rate from 5.9 children per woman to 2.6 over the last 30 years. This is important as it drastically reduces women’s mortality rate by allowing the body to recover from the previous birth and ensures good health for mother and child. However, in places such as Afghanistan and remote areas of Pakistan and Nigeria family planning is still a major issue. The maternal mortality rate stands at 1,800 deaths per 100,000 live births in Afghanistan and 1 death per 84 live births in Nigeria.4 The notion exists that family planning is a conception of the West, even though the issue is raised in both the Quran and Hadith.

In non-Muslim majority countries, Muslim women face different obstacles that deprive them of having appropriate access to healthcare. In some cases healthcare providers are unaware of cultural and religious sensitivities. Some Muslim women, for example, prefer to avoid unnecessary close contact with men and prefer female health care providers. There are times when some Muslim women receive no healthcare treatment because they are unable to see a female doctor.

[1] "There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) health and free time for doing good." Narrated Ibn Abbas in Sahih Al Buhkhari
[2] Sunan Abu-Dawud: Book 28, Number 3865:
[3] ArabianBusiness.com: No.5 Dr. Samia Al Amoudi
[4] Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health - Center for Communication Programs: Kano Advocacy Booklet

Related Issues

Sex Trafficking

Stigmatization of Rape & Honor Killings

Domestic Violence

Organizations Active on this Issue

Islamic Relief

Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies

Newspaper/Magazine Articles

Anonymous, Pull off the veil. (2010, April 3). Winnipeg Free Press,H.6. Retrieved July 1, 2010, from Canadian Newsstand Complete

HATEFNIA, EFFAT, et al. "Correlates of Mammography Utilization Among Working Muslim Iranian Women." Health Care for Women International 31.6 (2010): 499-514. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010

Patient –Centered HealthCare for Muslim Women in the USA

Scholarly Articles

Simpson, Jennifer L., and Kimberly Carter. "Muslim Women's Experiences With Health Care Providers in a Rural Area of the United States." Journal of Transcultural Nursing 19.1 (2008): 16-23. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010.

Azaiza, Faisal, and Miri Cohen. "Health Beliefs and Rates of Breast Cancer Screening among Arab Women." Journal of Women's Health (15409996) 15.5 (2006): 520-530. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010.

Relevant Books

Abdulaziz, Sachedina. “ Islamic Biomedical Ethics”. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Johnathon, E. Brockopp & Thomas Erch. “Muslim Medical Ethics From Theory to Practice”. University of South Carolina Press, 2008.

Masdar F. Masudi. “Islam and Women’s Reproductive Rights”. Sisters in Islam Publication.

Laws

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993)

Fourth World Conference on Women [FWCW]: Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995)

World Conference on Human Rights: Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)

WISE Women Active on Issue

Nafis Sadik

Fatou Waggeh

Hanan Gewefel