It’s no secret that women’s health research is abysmally underfunded—and as a result, many conditions affecting women are sorely under-studied. From preterm birth to menopause to endometriosis to autoimmune conditions like lupus (which primarily affect women), women have been underrepresented in clinical research for far too long. But a new White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research aims to close the gender gap in clinical research. The effort is led by First Lady Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council, and is intended to “fundamentally change how we approach and fund women’s health research,” a White House press release says.
Historically, women of childbearing potential have often been excluded from clinical trials, primarily due to safety concerns about potential effects on fertility and unborn children. This led to a significant gender gap in medical research, leading to a lack of data on how diseases and treatments affect women differently. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandated in 1993 that women and minorities must be included in clinical research, but still, gaps persist in some areas of research, which strongly impacts the care that many women receive.
“Every woman I know has a story about leaving her doctor’s office with more questions than answers,” writes the First Lady in a statement. “Not because our doctors are withholding information, but because there’s just not enough research yet on how to best manage and treat even common women’s health conditions. In 2023, that is unacceptable. Our new White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research will help change that by identifying bold solutions to uncover the answers that every woman and her family deserves. We also are calling on congressional leaders, the private sector, research institutions, and philanthropy to join us in taking urgent action to improve the health and lives of women throughout the nation.”
Taking a proactive approach to closing the gap in women’s health research can have trickle down effects in all areas of women’s health—as when we have more insights and information about common conditions women experience every day, care improves. And in an era where medical gaslighting is common in women’s health and fertility, it’s clear we can do better.
A recent CDC report found that the maternal mortality rate is increasing, and 4 out of 5—nearly 84%—of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Another CDC survey discovered that almost 50% of women are hesitant to discuss pregnancy concerns with their provider—and 1 in 5 women feel ignored or mistreated during prenatal appointments.
Many women aren’t getting the healthcare they so clearly need and deserve—and it starts with more research.
The gaps are even greater for communities that have historically been excluded from research—including women of color and women with disabilities, the First Lady shared in prepared remarks.
“Research on women’s health has been underfunded for decades,” Dr. Biden said. “Many conditions that mostly or only affect women, or affect women differently, have received little to no attention.”
The program aims to bring together federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, and Veterans Affairs, as well as White House offices like the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to prioritize and enhance research in women’s health and offer providers the tools and information they need to more effectively prevent, diagnose and treat conditions primarily affecting women.
First steps for The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research
The new initiative will focus on the following:
Advancing research with concrete actions
Within 45 days, the initiative will develop specific recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration to improve and expand research on women’s health. These recommendations will be designed to optimize the government’s investment in women’s health research, with a particular emphasis on addressing health disparities and inequities.
Focus on high-impact areas
The initiative will prioritize high-impact research areas that could greatly benefit from additional investment. This includes a range of women’s health issues, from heart attacks in women to menopause, ensuring that urgent and crucial health matters receive the attention and resources they need.
Collaboration with public and private sectors
The initiative plans to foster new public-private partnerships and engage leaders from the scientific, private, and philanthropic communities. This collaborative approach is intended to drive innovation in women’s health research and leverage the combined efforts of the public, private, and philanthropic sectors for greater impact.
“I have always believed in the power of research to save lives and to ensure that Americans get the high-quality health care they need,” President Biden says in a statement. “To achieve scientific breakthroughs and strengthen our ability to prevent, detect, and treat diseases, we have to be bold. That’s why today, we’re establishing a new White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research so that my Administration—from the National Institutes of Health to the Department of Defense—does everything we can to drive innovation in women’s health and close research gaps.”