As children, we absorb the stories we are told. Fairytales. Marvel superheroes. We soak up their meanings and structures as facts and organizing principles.
As a society we function in the same way: we live guided by unseen codes and hidden systems. The problem with hidden systems? They hold us back without our ever even knowing it.
That’s certainly the case with #womenshealth — what we fund impacts what we know, what we study and the therapies that come to market.
The lack of funding in women’s health is why, even today, we still don’t have answers about so much of the basic physiology of 50% of the world’s population.
For example, did you know that there are approximately 400 studies on menstrual effluent compared with 15’000 studies on semen?
Or that in 2020, only 10.7% of the basic scientific research funding provided by the United States government went towards women’s health research?
The lack of funding in women’s health has dire real-world consequences.
❓ Did you know that middle-aged women with chest pain and other symptoms of heart disease are 2x as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness compared with men with the same symptoms?
❓ Or that male patients are administered pain relief medication more frequently than female patients vs their female counterparts who are administered sedative medication more frequently in postoperative coronary bypass settings?
For too long women have been unseen and unheard when it comes to their health:
????They are unseen in the data we collect:
Women of childbearing potential were excluded from clinical trials until 1993 in the US.
????They are unseen in the textbooks clinicians use in school:
In a study of more than 6,000 images from 17 anatomy textbooks published between 2008 and 2013, only 36% of the anatomical images with an identifiable sex were female.
So, how do we change things? If stories form a backbone for our society — how can we weave stories that incentivise – no, demands — innovation in women’s health?
We explored how, for many years, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies did not invest much in developing drugs and biologics for rare diseases or conditions because “there [was] no reasonable expectation [that] the sales of the drug[s would] recover the costs”.
And why did that change? Due to Public Investment and changes in Policy that suddenly made an attractive investment case. Disease patient advocacy groups formed a coalition that became the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) to highlight the need for Public Investment and a change in Policy. And it worked.
So why couldn’t — why shouldn’t — something similar be the case in women’s health?
It requires a movement — and that movement starts with us.
We need to tell these stories, spread the word about them and listen to them to understand that the symptoms women experience are not anomalies, but the ’norm’ as well.
Some Institutions that are doing Awesome Work in terms of reshaping the narrative/ telling women’s stories are :