President Joe Biden on Monday announced the first-ever White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which will be led by First Lady Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council. The new initiative will be chaired and coordinated by Dr. Carolyn Mazure, who recently joined the White House from the Yale School of Medicine.
“If you ask any woman in America about her health care, she probably has a story to tell,” Jill Biden said on a call with reporters Monday morning. “She’s the woman whose heart disease isn’t recognized because her symptoms are considered noncardiac and the traditional testing used to diagnose a heart attack was developed based on men. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women.”
Biden explained that earlier this year, Maria Shriver, the former first lady of California, approached her about a need for greater effort both inside and outside of government to close long-standing gaps in women’s health research. To Biden, Shriver’s call resonated with something she said she had long seen — that research into conditions that mostly affect women or affect women differently than men have long been underfunded and that “these gaps are even greater for communities that have historically been excluded from research, including women of color and women with disabilities.”
Shriver, who joined the press call, stressed the importance of addressing “how sick women are in this country,” pointing to the fact that women are two-thirds of all Alzheimer’s cases, two-thirds of all multiple sclerosis cases, 80 percent of all autoimmune disease cases, and that they experience anxiety and depression at twice the rate of men.
Mazure noted that while the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began requiring that women be included in NIH-funded clinical research in the mid-1990s, the new White House Women’s Health Research office will take things one step further.
The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research intends to bring in members of executive departments across the federal government to work holistically on this issue; deliver concrete recommendations on how to advance women’s health research within its first 45 days; set priority areas where additional investments could have the biggest impact; and facilitate collaboration between the scientific private sector, philanthropic groups and the government to create new research initiatives.
Currently, the NIH spends only 10.8 percent of its overall funding on women’s health research, a figure that includes conditions specific to women and those that predominantly affect women.
Only 12 percent of NIH funding for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia research goes toward women’s-focused research, despite women making up two-thirds of all people with Alzheimer’s. Similarly, lung cancer is the second leading cause of death for women in the United States, and women who have never smoked are twice as likely to develop lung cancer than men who have never smoked; only 15 percent of male lung cancer patients have never smoked, compared with 50 percent of all women lung cancer patients.