Prioritizing women’s health and wellness is needed to close the gender health gap
You’re probably familiar with the gender pay gap — which refers to the fact that women (especially women of color) receive significantly lower wages than men for the same jobs across industries.
But did you know that similar disparities exist in the US healthcare system?
Before Congress passed the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993, early phases of most clinical trials actively excluded women (and female mice) with child bearing potential because their hormones were seen as a confounding variable.
Put simply, much of the research that modern medicine rests upon completely neglects female biology.
Hear from the co-founders of Evvy, a company on a mission to radically reinvent how we understand and treat the female body, on what we can do to close the gender health gap and why prioritizing female wellness is essential for economic and medical advancement.
What is the Gender Health Gap?
“Women’s health and vaginal health have been considered niche for so long,” explains Priyanka Jain, Evvy Co-Founder and CEO. Since a large body of medical research is based on men, gaining access to science-supported information on female health can be prohibitively challenging. The irony lies in the fact that—from an economic perspective—American women hold all the cards.
“Healthcare is one of the largest contributors to the U.S GDP,” says Jain. “Women are over 50 percent of the population and represent over 80 percent of the healthcare spend in the U.S. healthcare system.” Put simply, women have the power when it comes to spending on healthcare, and yet the treatment available to them has been created from research that only focused on men.
Consequences of the Gender Health Gap
Like any human being, all women and people with vaginas deserve access to empathetic and effective care. Unfortunately, the consequences of the gender health gap have made it challenging for many women to get baseline support and treatment. Some of the most problematic include:
1. Most Medical Diagnostic Criteria are Based on the Male Body
When it comes to life-threatening conditions, the speed with which they are diagnosed makes all the difference. But studies into the main conditions that affect both sexes, such as heart disease, tend to focus on the experiences of men, and how symptoms manifest in the male body — even though heart disease is the #1 killer of women.
That has led to a significant differences in diagnostics. For example, while most men exhibit chest pain during a heart attack, women are much more likely than men to have minor symptoms such as vomiting, back pain, or jaw pain. However, since much of the research on heart health is male-centric, women’s heart conditions often go unnoticed.
On average, women are diagnosed with heart disease between seven and ten years later than men. Sadly, this example represents only a single example of how medical research and treatment has neglected the experiences of women.
To this day, women are diagnosed 4 years later than men on average across 770+ diseases.
2. Critical Deficiencies in the Understanding and Treatment of Vaginal Health
Despite the fact that vaginal conditions represent some of the most common infections in women and people with vaginas, their causes, symptoms, and effective ways to treat them remain poorly understood by people in and outside of the medical community. This can have catastrophic consequences as recent research has shown imbalances in the vaginal microbiome (often correlated with vaginal infections) can increase the risk for conditions like infertility, preterm birth, and the progression of gynecological cancers,
“At least 30 percent of women suffer each year from vaginal dysbiosis. Vaginal infections are the number one reason that people with vaginas go to the OBGYN,” Jain explains.
Without research, medical professionals lack the insights needed to inform, educate, and treat women and people with vaginas. “There are likely many ways that we could better define health in the female body that could help us better predict risk for, diagnose, and treat disease as it uniquely manifests in women,” says Jain.
3. Medicines and Treatments are Studied Primarily on the Male Body
“Women weren’t required to be in U.S. clinical research until 1993. So it was common practice — and still can be — to dose medication for women as if they are simply small men.’’ explains Laine Bruzek, Evvy Co-Founder and CMO.
This oversight and presumption could be putting women at significant risk. “That has significant negative ramifications, like women are twice as likely to have adverse side effects to drugs,” Bruzek adds. “The medical system continues to fail women and people assigned female at birth by not properly studying how they will react to drugs, procedures, and processes.”
Building a Future Where Female-Focused Research is a Priority
Simply put, healthcare needs research that includes women and people with vaginas. Fortunately, consumer healthcare companies, such as Evvy, are helping to pioneer that research. The company offers an at-home vaginal microbiome test that could give women an unprecedented insight into their health.
The decision to launch the innovative company came down to personal experience and a desire to improve the healthcare system—from research to diagnosis to treatments—for all women and people with vaginas. “I was really curious about what biomarkers might exist uniquely in the female body that could help us better measure our health. And I kept coming back to the vaginal microbiome,” explains Jain.
Jain believes that gaining a deeper understanding of the vaginal microbiome may be the key to unlocking some of the mysteries of women’s health. She explains, “Yeast infections, UTIs, bacterial vaginosis, aerobic vaginitis and more. Anyone with a vagina can resonate with how frustrating these infections are from a symptom, quality of life, and relationship standpoint.”
It’s time for us to change the story surrounding women’s health. Women and people with vaginas deserve universal commitment to female-centric information, diagnoses, and treatment options. More importantly, women should have the opportunity to empower themselves by proactively learning more about their bodies and taking control of their preventative health.
Evvy is an innovative healthcare brand on a mission to radically reinvent how we understand and treat the female body. Founded by Priyanka Jain and Laine Bruzek, the company aims to close the gender health gap by researching the overlooked biomarkers in the female body—starting with the vaginal microbiome. For women and people with vaginas, Evvy’s at-home Vaginal Health Test finally decodes what’s up down there, why it matters, and what they can do about it. Please note that Evvy does not provide medical advice or diagnose customers with medical conditions.