“We need to protect women with research not from research.” I was struck by these words at the recent Society for Women’s Health Research annual Awards Gala during remarks from Dr. Diana W. Bianchi, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.
I believe this sentiment struck a chord with me because, in the last two years of the pandemic, we have seen how important data is for making decisions and managing our health on a daily basis. At the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t know what was safe. I remember wiping down my groceries at home and wearing a mask on outdoor walks. Soon research showed us that we needed to focus more on respiratory transmission, particularly indoors. Research is critical for assessing and managing risks in a rational, evidence-based way.
Until about 25 years ago, health research was conducted almost exclusively on men because researchers thought women’s hormone cycles would be difficult to account for in research. Unfortunately this led to a massive gap in our understanding of women’s health in general. There is so much more work needed to understand how diseases affect women compared to men, how women respond differently to treatments, and more. I have been honored to help support this work in my role as a board member for the Society for Women’s Health Research for the last 5 years.
Many of my colleagues at Reservoir are also focused on advancing women’s health in their work. To mark National Women’s Health Week (May 8-14), I asked some of them what they have learned about women’s health advocacy through their years in the space – here’s what they had to say:
Lee Lynch: “Women’s health advocates have always been resourceful and resilient, and the community applied these important traits to an even greater degree throughout the course of the pandemic. While keeping up with the (new) normal course of business, they also sought to make strides on critical pandemic-era issues including vaccine hesitancy and uptake, health care professional burnout and mental health challenges, delays in routine screenings, an early-on widening of health disparities, and preserving the potential for health outcomes and access gains from telehealth.”
Eva Whaley: “Working in women’s health has led me to understand how important representation is in health care – and it starts at the very beginning of drug development. Women have historically been underrepresented within clinical trials, and particularly women of color. Ensuring people from diverse backgrounds can participate in medical research is critical to advancing innovation for everyone, including people of different ethnicities and geographic locations, people with disabilities, pregnant individuals, and people with rare diseases.”
Setareh Samii: “In working with a company focused on advancing treatments for cardiovascular disease, I was shocked to learn the extent of disparities in cardiovascular care and outcomes among women compared to men. Limited awareness of how cardiovascular disease symptoms manifest in women has resulted in a more challenging health care journey for female patients, as research suggests they are more likely to report poor communication with their health care providers, less likely to report use of treatments like aspirin or statins, and more likely to use hospital emergency departments. More must be done to ensure women understand cardiovascular risk factors and are able to access the same level of care as their male counterparts.”
Michelle Nealy: “I have been engaged in advocating on behalf of Black and Brown communities for many years and while it is great to see an increased focus on health equity in recent years there is still a long way to go – particularly when it comes to the health of women of color. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications compared to white women. The tragic and unnecessary deaths of Black mothers in the U.S. is one of many reasons the continued focus on health equity and women’s health is imperative.”
We have a long way to go, but I am so glad to have these colleagues and many others giving their time and talents to advancing women’s health and research.
[Photo: Reservoir colleagues (and other friends) at the Society for Women’s Health Research Annual Awards Gala, April 28, 2022.]