International Women’s Day: Challenging health inequalities
Today (8 March) many of us around the world will celebrate International Women's Day (IWD). Although we have a great deal to be proud of—the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women—today also gives us a chance to set out clear actions for the future, ensuring we can continue to advance towards a gender equal world. As President for Lilly affiliates in Northern Europe, I am always looking for ways in which we can overcome gender inequality, both within our organisation and for the patients we serve.
I believe that patient outcomes, clinical research and overall business performance can be improved by the meaningful contribution of women. That is why I am committed to removing obstacles that prevent women [and men] at Lilly from achieving their full potential by challenging attitudes, bias and beliefs about gender. It’s about creating the conditions for women’s unique insight and experience to shape everything we do.
The World Health Organisation states that women make up 70% of the global health workforce yet only one quarter (25%) of women are in senior roles. 1 There is clearly more work to be done to ensure that women of any age, race and class are not discriminated against or overlooked. While we are not perfect, Lilly can be a role model for the industry; women make up 63% of management positions in France, 48% of our supervisors in Spain are women, and in Northern Europe, 75% of our senior management positions and 59% of all roles are held by women. By employing more women across all levels of the business, particularly those in decision-making positions who understand the experience and needs of women, we can better serve patients and accelerate access to medicines around the world.
With this year’s IWD theme #ChooseToChallenge, I challenge the industry to not only look within their organisation but consider how we can address the very real gender-based health inequalities that exist for patients. Gender biases in health research, data collection, diagnostics and treatment mean that women’s diagnosis is often delayed until advanced stages. We also know that female-specific conditions are under-researched and under-funded, meaning they often lack viable treatment option.
I believe that addressing these inequalities starts with clinical research—trials need to be more inclusive of gender and race, aware of gender differences and have sexual orientation as a main variable. For example, women ages 15 to 49 are three times more likely than men to have migraines, 2 yet there are few studies investigating the gender-based causes or solutions. Despite guidelines suggesting women should be represented in trials in proportion to their prevalence, this target falls short in serious disease areas such as cardiovascular conditions and some cancers—both leading causes of death for women in countries of all income levels. 3
We should look to implement policies that support the development of gender sensitive research, address the entire female lifecycle (not just pregnancy) and recognise that we can never truly advance innovation in healthcare if we don’t embed women’s experience and contributions in everything we do. For this to be successful we need women and men across the entire industry to come together to influence and invest in lasting change with the same goal: to make life better for all women, people and communities.
I could not be more excited to be representing Lilly UK on a panel discussion with Public Policy Projects which will address a number of inequalities in women’s health. We all need support each other to understand and communicate the role gender plays across the areas in which we work. Once we have this knowledge, we can make real changes to reflect the specific needs of these patient. Gender, race or class cannot and should not be a factor in health outcomes and Lilly is ready to play its part.
WHO. Delivered by women, led by men: a gender and equity analysis of the global health and social workforce. 2019. Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311322/9789241515467-eng.pdf?ua=1. Last accessed: March 2021.
Kearney, M. et al. Migraine: Diagnosis and Management from a GP Perspective ICGP Quick Reference Guide. 2019.
Ravindran T S, Teerawattananon Y, Tannenbaum C, Vijayasingham L. Making pharmaceutical research and regulation work for women. BMJ 2020; 371.
Tags in this Article:
Italy one of the first countries to recognize migraine as a disease with a social...
The Italian senate recently laid a historic milestone when it approved legislation recognizing chronic primary headache,* including migraine, as a disease with a social impact. This decision sets a precedent in Italian healthcare of political action as a significant step towards greater understanding and improvement of care for people with this condition.
Science and hope in times of COVID-19
2021 is a year of hope. COVID-19 continues to generate great suffering around the world: countless people have been affected by deaths of family members or plunged into poverty as a result of devastated economies; and many others marked by lockdowns or social isolation. Despite all of this, 2020 taught us lessons that allow us to look at 2021 with hope.
Diabetes must be higher on the political agenda
60 million people in Europe—equivalent to the population of Italy—have diabetes. This presents a significant challenge for European health systems, which spend €150 billion on diabetes.1 And up to 75% of diabetes expenditure is related to preventable complications.2 Moreover, COVID-19 has further highlighted the need for better diabetes care and control as people with diabetes are suffering a far higher mortality rate than the general population. This should be a call to action for all policymakers.