Tick tock, the entire government has 45 days to come up with ways the Biden-Harris Administration can improve the way research on women’s health is conducted to address historical health disparities and inequities.
Although women are a majority of the population, their health has been “drastically underfunded, leading to significant research gaps, with serious consequences for the health of women across the country.”
First Lady Jill Biden and Director of the White House Gender Policy Council Jen Klein announced a new White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research on Monday morning, which will use a whole-of-government approach to address health research disparities for women.
“If you ask any woman in America about her health care, she probably has a story to tell. You know her,” the First Lady said in a call with reporters in which PoliticusUSA took part.
“She’s the woman who gets debilitating migraines, but doesn’t know why and can’t find treatment options that work for her. She’s the woman whose heart disease isn’t recognized because her symptoms are considered non-cardiac, and the traditional testing used to diagnose a heart attack was developed based on men,” Dr. Biden continued.
“Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, and yet historically it’s been characterized as mostly a man’s disease. She’s the woman going through menopause, who visits with her doctor and leaves with more questions than answers. Every woman – half of the population – will be affected by menopause, and yet there’s a stunning lack of information about how to manage and treat its symptoms, which can be debilitating.”
These are a few of the reasons why the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, led by Dr. Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council, will use the power of the federal government to address huge gender disparities in research and especially disparities for women of color.
It’s intended to fundamentally change approaches to women’s health research and highlights areas that have been historically less invested in, from heart attacks to menopause.
Ultimately, the initiative is meant to involve not just the whole-of-government approach, but also both the private sector and philanthropic sector. As a first step, President Joe Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum to do the following:
• Establish an Initiative consisting of executive departments and agencies across the Federal government. Initiative members include Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, and Veterans Affairs, and White House offices, such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Deliver concrete recommendations to advance women’s health research. Within 45 days, Initiative members will recommend concrete actions that the Biden-Harris Administration can take to improve how research on women’s health is conducted and maximize the Administration’s investments in women’s health research, including to address health disparities and inequities.
• Take a targeted, high-impact approach. To deliver results quickly, Initiative members will set priority areas of focus where additional investments could be transformative—in areas of research ranging from heart attacks in women to menopause.
• Engage the scientific, private sector, and philanthropic communities. The Initiative will explore new public-private partnerships and engage private and philanthropic leaders to drive innovation and ensure the combined power of public, private, and philanthropic sectors advances research on women’s health.
Although the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 set at the time landmark guidelines in research that requires the inclusion of women in clinical research, this memorandum is meant to use a whole-of-government approach to address the huge gap in research investment in women’s health. For example, a senior administration official said the NIH currently only spends 10.8% of its overall funding on women’s health research, a figure that includes the conditions that predominantly affect women.
“Only 12% of NIH funding for for Alzheimer’s disease and related Dementias goes towards women’s focused research, even though women make up two thirds of the people with Alzheimer’s. When you look at lung cancer as just another example, which is the second leading cause of death for women in the United States, there are differences in how cancer affects men and women,” a senior administration official said during a call with reporters in which PoliticusUSA took part.
“So for example, in lung cancer, as they said, women who never smoked are twice as likely to develop lung cancer than men who never smoked. And while only 15% of male lung cancer patients are never smokers, half of women with lung cancer never smoked, and we still don’t know why.”
This research disparity is apparent to many women at some point in their lives, and if they aren’t aware of it, they are still impacted by it in some way through a family member or a loved one.
“Women’s Health Research encompasses a range of conditions those specific to women. Like endometriosis or reproductive cancers, those that disproportionately affect women like autoimmune diseases or Alzheimer’s disease, and those come in in both women and men, but that may impact women differently, such as cardiovascular disease,” a senior administration official said.
When asked about if the initiative would address abortion research given the current alarming state of women’s health in the U.S., they added, “Maternal and reproductive health are integral to a women’s overall health and will continue to be an important part of the administration’s efforts.”
President Biden said “To achieve scientific breakthroughs and strengthen our ability to prevent, detect, and treat diseases, we have to be bold,” which is why this initiative is need to push the entire Administration “from the National Institutes of Health to the Department of Defense” to use all of its power to “drive innovation in women’s health and close research gaps.”
The initiative will be chaired by Dr. Carolyn Mazure. She will coordinate the Initiative on behalf of the Office of the First Lady and the Gender Policy Council.
As a Senator, Joe Biden introduced on June 20, 1990, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and in 1993, Dr. Jill Biden created the Biden Breast Health Initiative, so interest in prioritizing women’s health and safety isn’t new for the President and First Lady.
Research into women’s health is absolutely abysmal, so this initiative is necessary and welcome. It also raises the question: How did we get here in 2023, to the place where there has to be a presidential memorandum and a whole White House initiative to push the government to research to address issues that fundamentally impact women.
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