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How Sex and Gender Impact the Health of Women and Men

This month, EPF talked to Peggy Maguire from the European Institute of Womens Health (EIWH) and one of EPF’s member organisation, about how sex and gender impact the health of women and men. Here is her insight on the matter.

In Europe, women outlive men by on average more than five years, but their healthy life expectancy advantage is less than nine months. Sex and gender have important implications for public health and biomedical research, prevention, healthcare.

Biological and social influences are critical to health. Women face higher rates of diseases in some such as breast cancer, osteoporosis and auto-immune diseases. Other diseases affect men and women differently, including diabetes, depression and cardiovascular disease. Women do not present the same for conditions and respond differently to treatment than do men.

Many factors outside of the health sector—such as socio-economic status, education, culture and ethnicity—affect behaviour and access to resources. For example, women in Europe have lower paid, often less secure and informal occupations than do men. They earn 16% less than men and receive pensions that are 40% lower.

Safe use of medicines across the life course

Women's health affects the health of their unborn child and consequently that of future generations.

Most of the 5 million babies born in Europe every year have been exposed to medications taken by their mothers during the pregnancy. Yet, there is a lack of information and data about the safe use of medication during pregnancy and lactation.

Women are the heaviest medicine users, yet they are under-represented in research and data. Consequently, the evidence base is weak for women as well as for older people. Women have more than a 50% greater risk of developing adverse drug reactions compared to men. The Clinical Trials Regulation must be implemented to combat the systematic underrepresentation of women in clinical trials. At national level, Ethics Committees must be encouraged to develop guidelines based on the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences’ (CIOMS) Requirements on the Inclusion of Women in Clinical Research.

Healthcare professional education and training

Investment must be made in improving healthcare professional education and training across Europe through cross-national, multi-sectorial and multidisciplinary collaboration across the policy and health sectors to future proof all patients’ healthcare needs. The incorporation of sex and gender into training, curricula and professional standards must be fostered and integrated.

Gender Inequities in Health

As women and men utilise healthcare services in different ways, services must be adapted to better meet everyone’s needs. For example, the symptoms of cardiovascular disease in women can be different from those of men, women are slower than men to react when these symptoms appear.

Patient centred healthcare

Healthcare systems should continuously change to reduce all health inequities. Policies and programmes must be developed to better adapt services to ensure that everyone has access to the best available treatment and care. The EU should encourage healthcare systems to be responsive to the needs of both women and men as well as to meet the needs of vulnerable groups.

Peggy Maguire, Director General, European Institute of Womens Health (EIWH)