The theme of International Women’s Day this year – Inspire Inclusion – could not be more relevant to those of us who think a lot about gaps and inequities in healthcare and how to address them. So this year, I’m sharing some startling statistics about those gaps, along with some inspiring measures to close them being taken by HealthPartners members. If you’re wondering how YOU can foster health equity for women, read on! 

It’s no surprise that, as the World Economic Forum stated in 2023, “we face wide gaps in research and treatment ability for areas that are unique to women.” The evidence is all around us:

  • Every 22 minutes, a woman in Canada dies of a heart attack. But the majority don’t have to, experts say, warning that more women will die unnecessarily if the medical community doesn’t tailor care and research to their needs.
  • In 2020, an estimated 62% of persons living with dementia in Canada were female and this number is expected to rise. Despite the higher prevalence of the disease in women, experts note dementia research to date has predominantly focused on men.
  • Women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with the chronic and often progressive disease multiple sclerosis than men.

Despite accounting for just over half the population, women still face wide gaps in health research and treatment in areas that are unique to women, as well as for conditions that present differently in women than men. Yet, research often overlooks these biological disparities, especially neglecting differences impacting women of color and members of the 2S/LGBTQ+ community.

That’s why the research HealthPartners’ 17 member charities fund is so important, taking steps to combat this inequity in some significant ways:

  • Heart & Stroke recently funded the cutting-edge research of Dr Jodi Edwards of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, who is investigating ways to prevent stroke and vascular dementia. Her research is focused on the heart-brain connection and is firmly tied to sex and gender equity.
  • The Canadian Cancer Society supported Dr David Huntsman and his colleagues, who have discovered that ovarian cancer starts in the fallopian tubes. This discovery will lead to early detection and improved treatment options for women facing this deadly disease.
  • MS Canada has developed a resource specifically for women to help them in navigating considerations around pregnancy and menopause.  They also support the work of Dr Kristen Krysko which focuses on women’s health during pregnancy and postpartum to improve the treatment and care of women with multiple sclerosis.
  • The Kidney Foundation of Canada awarded a grant to Dr Reetinder Kaur at UBC to study the factors influencing a woman’s decision to become a living kidney donor and the ways to mitigate potential coercion.

I am inspired and grateful for the work that is being spearheaded by our member charities in the areas of women’s health. And we can ALL support them in their mission to close gender-based gaps in healthcare by hosting a workplace giving campaign supporting HealthPartners members in our workplaces and by giving to patient organizations whenever we can.

Let’s all be inspired to support inclusive healthcare by increasing investments in research that is specific to and focused on women’s health.  Together, we can improve health outcomes and save lives.