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‘This is a wake-up call’: UK government urged to take action as women’s health progress stalls

Without more funding women’s health will continue to fall behind, experts have warned following a shock report

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Experts have urged the UK government to take action after an “alarming” study found that progress in women’s health had stagnated.

A global survey has found that women’s health in the UK has not improved across a three-year period, with a lack of progress in preventive care and reduced satisfaction with pregnancy care causing particular concern.

The study, which involved 79,000 women across 143 countries, has shown that women’s health and wellbeing in the UK are trailing those in much of the EU.

While acknowledging the pandemic’s impact on the NHS, experts have warned that without more research and funding women’s health will continue to fall behind.

“This report paints a concerning picture of women’s health and emotional wellbeing,” Lauren Chiren, menopause trainer and founder of Women of a Certain Stage, told Femtech World.

“This is particularly troubling, as despite the COVID-19 pandemic receding, women’s health hasn’t improved. The overall score for the UK has remained at 54 out of 100 for three years, indicating no significant progress since the pandemic’s peak.

“This report should be seen as a wake-up call for more investment in research and funding. It’s alarming that in 2024 women’s health is still falling well behind what is expected.”

Chiren said it is particularly concerning to see the gender gap in emotional wellbeing.

The Hologic Global Women’s Health Index report found that women in Britain are sadder and more stressed than their European counterparts.

Compared with 2020, the research showed that feelings of worry, sadness, stress and anger had all increased for women in the UK — whereas in Europe, such feelings have stayed the same since 2020 or improved slightly.

“We need to ask why women are shouldering this burden and what we can do to create a world where they feel safe, supported and empowered to take care of themselves.”

Georgie Spurling, founder and CEO of ARVRA wellness, blamed Britain’s “stressful” lifestyle for the worsening health outcomes.

“We run our lives at a million miles per hour, burnout is at an all-time high and the hustle culture seems to be peaking.

“This constant stress has a knock-on effect on all sorts, such as fertility, hormonal imbalance, nutrition and mental health. Other factors, such as the cost of living, weather and culture, also contribute to women’s health being at a standstill.

“We need to take a more preventative approach to our mental and physical health to stop women from getting to crisis point. This report really showcases that more should and could be done.”

Dr Bryony Henderson, associate medical director at Livi UK, said: “The recent research underscores the urgent need for enhanced focus on women’s healthcare in the UK.

“We need long -term commitment and ongoing evaluation of services to effectively address the complex and varied needs of women, while ensuring that every woman is given the fundamental right to make decisions about their body.

“I urge the UK government to ensure that initiatives address the intersectional nature of women’s health, prioritise accessibility and equity, and foster collaboration among healthcare providers.”

Dr Claire Phipps, GP and advanced menopause specialist at London Gynaecology, also backed calls for more government action.

“There is huge disparity in the care that women receive in the UK. Women remain under-represented in clinical trials which means that conditions which only affect women are under-researched,” Phipps told Femtech World.

“Many women report not feeling heard, not feeling listened too, feeling judged, or made to feel like a bother. There are also issues which are related to socio-economic status, ethnicity and geographic region.

“In order to change the current narrative, there needs to be access to proactive and preventative health services, easier access to preventative screening campaigns and education about why these are important.”

‘We treat women’s health issues reactively’

Currently, the UK lags behind the EU when it comes to preventive care testing, particularly in the areas of high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and STIs.

Dr Fiona MacRae, specialist in integrative women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing at the Marion Gluck Clinic, believes this is due to a lack of focus on preventative healthcare in the UK.

“Many European countries have robust preventative healthcare programmes that focus on early detection and intervention for various health conditions.

“In contrast, the UK often treats women’s health issues reactively rather than proactively, which can result in late diagnosis and poorer health outcomes.”

Lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease also contribute, MacRae explained.

“Women in the UK have higher rates of obesity compared to other European countries, which can increase their risk of developing chronic health conditions.

“The lack of emphasis on promoting healthy lifestyle choices and providing support for women to adopt healthier habits is contributing to the overall poorer health outcomes for women in the UK.”

According to MacRae, there is also a lack of awareness and education in the UK surrounding women’s health issues.

“Many women are not aware of the symptoms of common health conditions, such as endometriosis and PCOS, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

“This lack of awareness can contribute to the overall poorer health status of women in the UK compared to their European counterparts.”

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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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