As women working in healthcare, we have seen up close and personal the effects of the gender health gap. While this can manifest itself in a variety of ways across the world, the end result is always the same: women fare worse than their male counterparts across multiple health metrics.
Women face challenges of all kinds when it comes to their health, for example women are more likely to suffer from certain health problems including poor mental health and migraines than men. Many of the conditions which only affect women such as endometriosis receive far less attention, in terms of funding and research, than conditions affecting men. And the same is true of non-gender specific health challenges like cardiovascular disease; only four percent of the UK’s research budget for heart disease is focussed on women.
Women struggle with health at home and in the workplace, where it is only recently in some countries that discussion around topics like menstruation and menopause has become acceptable. From one end of the healthcare spectrum to the other, a gender imbalance is clear. Women are less well-represented in clinical trials and in more than 700 different illnesses, women are diagnosed later than men. On average women still live longer than men, but statistics suggest that women spend more of their life in poor health.
This has an enormous impact on a variety of societal and economic factors, so closing the gap is in everyone’s interests. But how? Fortunately, innovators around the globe are busily working on a wide range of solutions that could help to reduce this health inequality.
Access to care: In many developing countries there is a fundamental need to ensure that women and girls have affordable access to the care they need. For instance, in many parts of Africa there are limited healthcare options for working class women. This is a situation that South African startup Zoie Health is looking to change. The company provides women with online resources, medication subscriptions, and virtual and in-person consultations. All supported by an online community that matches women to experts and other women who share similar health problems. Elsewhere, Mexican startup Plenna is providing women with hybrid care that includes nutrition advice and virtual mental healthcare, as well as in-person gynaecological treatment. The company also creates easy-to-understand educational content and works to create communities and social networks that support female health.
Managing menstrual health: Researchers have found that menstruating women who work lose nearly nine days of productivity a year due to period pain. To tackle this, UK startup Myoovi has developed an electrical nerve stimulation device that reduces period pain almost instantly. This device fits discreetly under clothing, delivering a small pulse to the back or abdomen through a gel patch. Belgian startup Guud is also helping women through their menstrual cycle. The company provides clinically proven supplements that meet the specific physiological requirements of menstrual health. These are combined with a live chat feature that connects women to experts such as sexual health therapists, pharmacists, gynaecologists, midwives, nutritionists, and doctors.
With efforts to close the gender health gap increasing, these innovations and similar, are likely to find a receptive marketplace. The British Medical Journal described investing in women’s health as a “best buy for sustainable development” and last year the UK Government published its first ever Women’s Health Strategy for England. With the private sector and entrepreneurs of all kinds now turning their focus on the gender health gap, we are hoping that we start to see active signs that it might be beginning to close.