For health’s sake, count females

Monday, November 25, 2019

‘In health, everyone matters and everyone counts—which is why we need better health data specifically about women,’ says Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive, Alison Verhoeven,

Ms Verhoeven was commenting on today’s Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) article, Sex and gender in health research: updating policy to reflect evidence.

The authors (Wainer and others) report that Australia lags behind North America and Europe in requiring sex and gender analyses in grant-funded health research and publications (in addition to other types of analyses).

This, the authors say, can affect the quality of research findings—there is growing evidence from pre-clinical and clinical research that there can be significant differences between females and males in susceptibility to disease and responses to treatment.

‘When information about sex and gender is not prioritised in health research, scientific accuracy is compromised, with lost opportunities to improve women’s health,’ says Ms Verhoeven.

‘Cancer, mental health and heart disease are examples of where our understanding of disease is limited by not taking into account data about women.

‘This also has a negative impact on our understanding of disease in men.

‘Unfortunately, this also affects care offered to women, with a 2018 MJA article reporting that women in Australia who have a STEMI (a serious type of heart attack) and who present to an Emergency Department are half as likely to get the care they need as men, and twice as likely to be dead as a result of their disease in 6 months.

The MJA article also notes that costs associated with compromised data quality extend beyond health impacts on individuals to health budgets, with implications also for social services and aged care budgets.

‘This year, the Australian Government has published its 2020–2030 National Women’s Health Strategy, with specific recommendations and funding aimed at improving the quality of data disaggregated by sex and gender.

‘This could be strengthened by developing policies and practices requiring better data collection as a condition of research funding and for journal publication,’ says Ms Verhoeven.

‘There is also an opportunity through the current development of a National Health Information Strategy to promote better sex and gender data collection across Australia’s national health data sets.’

‘The AHHA supports the call for greater commitment to developing and implementing sex and gender analysis in health and medical research.  This will benefit our health, promote high value healthcare, and improve our international competitiveness in health and medical research,’ says Ms Verhoeven.

More information on AHHA is available at ahha.asn.au

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media enquiries:  Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, AHHA

0403 282 501