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Gender health gap study reveals ‘stark’ differences between men and women

The health differences between men and women grow with age, researchers have found

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Women live longer than men but experience more years in poor health, a global gender health gap analysis has shown, underscoring the need for gender-responsive approaches to health.

The study, published in the Lancet Public Health journal, found that globally, there are substantial differences between men and women when it comes to health, with limited progress in bridging these health gaps over the past 30 years.

Non-fatal conditions that lead to health loss through illness and disability, including musculoskeletal conditions, mental health conditions and headache disorders, particularly affect women globally, the research suggested, while men are disproportionally affected by conditions that cause premature death, such as COVID-19, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory and liver diseases.

The health differences between men and women, however, continue to grow with age, leaving women with higher levels of illness and disability throughout their lives, as they tend to live longer than men.

“This report clearly shows that over the past 30 years global progress on health has been uneven,” said senior author, Dr Luisa Sorio Flor, at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington.

“Females have longer lives but live more years in poor health, with limited progress made in reducing the burden of conditions leading to illness and disability, underscoring the urgent need for greater attention to non-fatal consequences that limit women’s physical and mental function.

“Similarly, males are experiencing a much higher and growing burden of disease with fatal consequences.

“This kind of critical, comparable and comprehensive research is important, both to understand the magnitude and distribution of the diverse and evolving health needs of females and males around the world and to identify key opportunities for health gain at all stages of life.”

The study is also a call for countries to boost their reporting of sex and gender data, said Sorio Flor.

“The timing is right for this study and call to action – not only because of where the evidence is now, but because COVID-19 has starkly reminded us that sex differences can profoundly impact health outcomes.

“One key point the study highlights is how females and males differ in many biological and social factors that fluctuate and, sometimes, accumulate over time, resulting in them experiencing health and disease differently at each stage of life and across world regions.

“The challenge now is to design, implement and evaluate sex- and gender-informed ways of preventing and treating the major causes of morbidity and premature mortality from an early age and across diverse populations.”

The study looked at the disparities in the 20 leading causes of illness and death between men and women, across ages and regions.

The modelling research used data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021, and did not include sex-specific health conditions, such as gynaecological conditions or prostate cancers.

The analysis estimated that for 13 out of the top 20 causes of illness and death, including COVID-19, road injuries and a range of heart, respiratory and liver diseases, the rate was higher in men than women in 2021.

Among the conditions evaluated, the study suggested the biggest contributors to health loss globally disadvantaging women are low back pain, depressive disorders, headache disorders, anxiety disorders, other musculoskeletal disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and HIV/AIDS.

These conditions predominantly contribute to illness and disability throughout life as opposed to leading to premature death, the research found.

For conditions with the greatest gap disadvantaging women, such as mental health conditions and musculoskeletal disorders, the differences in health loss between men and women begin early in life and continue to intensify with age, the findings also showed.

“Large causes of health loss in women, particularly musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions, have not received the attention that they deserve”, said co-lead author Gabriela Gil from IHME.

“It’s clear that women’s healthcare needs to extend well beyond areas that health systems and research funding have prioritized to date, such as sexual and reproductive concerns.”

She added: “Conditions that disproportionately impact females in all world regions, such as depressive disorders, are significantly underfunded compared with the massive burden they exert, with only a small proportion of government health expenditure globally earmarked for mental health conditions.

“Future health system planning must encompass the full spectrum of issues affecting females throughout their lives, especially given the higher level of disability they endure and the growing ratio of females to males in ageing populations.”

The global differences in health loss between men and women have been largely consistent for the past 30 years, but for some diseases, such as diabetes, the differences have grown, researchers found.

At the same time, there has been a disproportionate rise in global health loss caused by depressive disorders, anxiety, and some musculoskeletal disorders disadvantaging women.

The authors stressed that the health differences identified begin to emerge in adolescence, coinciding with a critical time when gender norms and attitudes intensify and puberty reshapes self-perceptions.

This pattern, they said, underscores the need for targeted responses from an early age to prevent the onset and exacerbation of health conditions and for adopting a life course approach when planning for health systems so that they are well-equipped to handle the needs of the populations they serve.

Dr Vedavati Patwardhan from the University of California, San Diego, said: “Our analysis highlights the need for targeted policies and planning to address the health needs of diverse populations.

“Without granular insights on risk behaviours, social dynamics, economic conditions and access to health care for all people in various parts of the world, the systemic barriers that sustain health inequities will remain.”

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Labcorp launches screening test to identify preeclampsia risk sooner

The new screening tool is capable of assessing the risk of preeclampsia sooner, the test maker says

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Labcorp has launched a screening test that can assess the risk of preeclampsia before 34 weeks of pregnancy.

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can develop during pregnancy or postpartum and is a leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Roughly one in 25 pregnancies in the US is affected by preeclampsia, which poses an even greater risk for non-Hispanic black women, who experience the condition at a 60 per cent higher rate compared to white women.

In January, Labcorp announced the launch and availability of an FDA-cleared blood test for risk assessment and clinical management of severe preeclampsia during the second and third trimesters.

The first trimester test uses four early pregnancy biomarkers to provide a risk assessment with up to 90 per cent sensitivity, nearly twice the sensitivity of assessing typical maternal history or biophysical factors alone.

According to Labcorp, the test results provide risk identification earlier than traditional symptoms, such as hypertension or protein in the urine, which tend to develop around 20 weeks gestation.

Eleni Tsigas, chief executive officer of the Preeclampsia Foundation, said: “Our organisation celebrates this innovative new test offering.

“Research shows that patients and providers want access to more tools that better predict progression to preeclampsia, especially for those patients with low- to average-risk or those with first-time pregnancies for whom there is some uncertainty.”

Dr Brian Caveney, chief medical and scientific officer at Labcorp, added: “Labcorp is committed to advancing maternal and foetal health through innovative diagnostic and screening solutions.

“This new first trimester blood test is another significant milestone in our mission to improve health and improve lives. By giving healthcare providers another tool to assess preeclampsia risk in their pregnant patients with objective biomarkers, we’re helping to advance prenatal care and improve outcomes for mothers and their babies.”

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People with HIV can be sperm and egg donors

A change in law will allow people with non-transmissible HIV in the UK to donate gametes to partners

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Same-sex couples with non-transmissible HIV will now be able to donate eggs or sperm and become parents.

People with HIV will able to donate their sperm or eggs to their partners, as the law in the UK is updated.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act will be amended via a statutory instrument to allow people with non-transmissible HIV – with a viral load low enough not to pass on – to donate eggs or sperm, known as gametes, as part of fertility treatment to their partners.

Under current rules on IVF, only a male partner with HIV can give their sperm to their female partner and not to anyone else.

The law change will also eliminate extra screening costs for female same-sex couples undertaking reciprocal IVF treatment.

The government says this is part of wider work to improve access to IVF for everyone and ensure same-sex couples have the same rights as a man and woman when trying to conceive.

“These changes will allow more people to fulfil their dream of becoming parents,” said UK health minister, Maria Caulfield.

“We have changed the law to ensure equality for people living with HIV when accessing IVF, allowing them to donate their eggs and sperm.

“In addition, the change will allow female same-sex couples to access IVF with no extra screening costs, the same as heterosexual couples.”

She added: “These changes will help create a fairer system by removing barriers to accessing fertility care as we have set out in the Women’s Health Strategy.”

The changes to the law will allow people with HIV to donate their gametes to family, friends and known recipients.

The regulations include an updated definition of partner donation to enable female same-sex couples wishing to donate eggs to each other to undergo the same testing requirements as heterosexual couples.

Under current rules, female same-sex couples hoping to conceive via reciprocal IVF must first go through screening for syphilis and genetic screening, such as cystic fibrosis, which can cost over £1,000, while heterosexual couples do not need to undergo this screening.

Julia Chain, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said: “The HFEA welcomes the news that legislation regarding partner donation in relation to reciprocal IVF, and gamete donation from those who have HIV with an undetectable viral load, has now been proposed in Parliament.

“Fertility treatment is helping more people than ever to create their family, and everyone undergoing fertility treatment should be treated fairly.

“For known donation from individuals with undetectable HIV, we anticipate that the first clinics may be able to begin to offer this treatment around 3 months following a change in the law.

“We encourage any patients or donors who may be affected by these changes to visit the HFEA website to find out free and impartial information, including about how to choose a fertility clinic.”

Minister for equalities, Stuart Andrew MP, added: “Treatment for HIV has improved significantly, saving countless lives, but the stigma surrounding it persists – a stigma which often prevents people from getting tested and seeking treatment.

“These changes will help to reduce that stigma, making it clear that people with HIV can live full and happy lives. I am delighted by these changes which will enable more people to experience the joy of becoming parents.”

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Portfolia invests total of US$65m into women’s health companies

The platform has invested in 47 femtech start-ups to date

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Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia

The US venture investing platform Portfolia has announced it has invested a total of US$65m into women’s health companies and solutions.

Portfolia aims to create, educate and support the largest community of women investors in the world.

The company says it was amongst the first to recognise the “immense” potential of women’s wealth, with women’s health at the forefront.

To date, Portfolia has made investments in 112 companies with 47 of those women’s health companies being femtech and active aging specific.

Some of these include Madison Reed, Maven, Everly Health, Bone Health, Veana, Your Choice, Future Family, Willow, Hey Jane, Lighthouse Pharma, L-Nutra and JoyLux.

The total companies Portfolia has invested in are estimated to serve over 102 million customers in 115 countries worldwide.

These companies have a combined value of over US$17bn, with over US$1bn in revenue and 10,000 employees worldwide.

According to Portfolia, almost 70 per cent of these businesses are led by female CEOs, and 49 per cent are led by BIPOC individuals.

“At Portfolia, we believe in the power of activating our wealth for returns and impact,” said Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia.

“Today, women in the United States have unprecedented access to wealth – with over US$25tn of wealth in the US and almost 50 per cent of it owned by women.

“This wealth is power – power to create financial change and invest in the companies and businesses that matter to us and meet our needs/desires.”

She added: “Our commitment goes beyond traditional venture capital – we’re pioneering change, saving lives, and creating opportunities for all, while creating the most powerful community of women investors globally, and the first to activate our wealth to shape the future of healthcare.”

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