Women’s health: is there really such a thing as the gender health gap?
When you first hear ‘women’s health’ it is common to focus on menstruation, menopause, fertility, and reproduction – but the gap in women’s health is so much broader than this. Historically, the pharmaceutical industry has primarily focused on men’s health concerns and neglected women. Almost imperceptibly, it was only in 2015 when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began to require that scientists consider sex as a biological variable in preclinical research!
When I first started working in medical communications, I was unaware of the gender health gap. Of course, I knew of the gender pay gap, but I’d never considered that my sex also had an impact on my access to and quality of healthcare. My eyes were first opened when a client I worked with was running a clinical trial advisory board on heart devices and a KOL was adamant that the representation of women in the study should be balanced to that of men. She emphasised that existing products had been proven non-effective and, in some cases, dangerous to women. In order to not only fill a needed gap in the market but to be an impactful competitor, women needed to be a pivotal part of the study.
One of the key factors contributing to the gender health gap in the pharmaceutical industry is the underrepresentation of women in clinical trials. Women are often excluded due to concerns about the potential impact of hormonal fluctuations on study outcomes, or more controversially women of childbearing age are excluded due to the potential consequences on the unconceived child, and it is these exclusions that has led to a lack of data on the safety and efficacy of treatments in women.
Beyond clinical trials, women face discrimination when seeking diagnosis or treatment. The ‘gender bias’ has been well documented across the world, leading to underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis of conditions in women and resulting in inadequate care. Women are often categorised as ‘emotional’, or historically ‘hysterical’, when experiencing real physical symptoms and it is this societal bias that impacts women’s access to healthcare. Unfortunately, being a woman is only one of the many barriers, racism and sexism are regularly found hand-in-hand, and black women experience the worst healthcare of all demographics.
Therefore, as we work with our partners in the industry, from preclinical to market ready, it is important that we champion equal representation wherever we can. Whether it’s at an advisory board emphasising the need and benefit for research and development to include more women in clinical trials, or in a publication plan encouraging the further analysis of results by race and gender to better understand how treatments work in all demographics. We will be not only upholding our social responsibility, but also providing an economical benefit to our partners in the market as they raise a higher standard for healthcare.
It is not only the pharmaceutical industry or medical communications that have a role to play in closing the gender health gap. It is a multifaceted issue that requires all aspects of society to drive change, including policy makers, education, healthcare providers, communities and so many more.
However, as an industry, we have a front row seat to the improvement of women’s health, and we can take action to support change and dismantle the barriers that prevent women from accessing quality healthcare services.
Women’s health matters, and we can and should all play our part to help close the gender health gap, and ensure that all women have access to the care and support they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
If you’re interested in exploring career opportunities at Bioscript Group, get in touch with our Talent Acquisition Specialist, Peter Griffiths, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Account Director at Bioscript Group