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Guest article

The European Institute of Women’s Health, (EIWH) promotes health and wellbeing across the life course of women, highlighting inequalities due to sex, age and socio-economic status. The annual celebration of International Women’s Day earlier this month is a reminder of the need for our evidence-based approach to women’s health, demonstrating how vulnerability to the onset and progression of specific diseases varies in men and women and that this situation must be improved.

Biological and social influences impact on health. Women have higher rates of diseases such as, breast cancer, osteoporosis and auto-immune diseases than men.  Other diseases, such as  diabetes, depression and cardiovascular disease, affect men and women differently.  Women, the heaviest medicine users, remain under-represented in clinical trials, research and data, weakening the evidence base for women as well as for older people.

Medicinal products are safer and more effective for everyone when clinical research studies include diverse population groups. Biological and social influences must be incorporated throughout the process from design of clinical trial protocols to health technology assessment to treatment and care, benefitting women’s and improving men’s health too.

 Early intervention is key to health improvement. Early action and use of available evidence can best identify entry points for various health promotion interventions- at population and individual level—specific to girls and women throughout their life, devoting special attention to vulnerable and marginalised groups. Access to cancer screening programmes, vaccination, good maternal healthcare and promotion of healthy lifestyles should be supported at local, national and European levels.

Maternal health is a vital point for public health intervention to promote wellbeing by encouraging healthy lifestyle choices. One tenth of women in Europe do not have access to care during the first months of pregnancy. Efforts to improve and share best practice of maternal healthcare must be supported.

There is a lack of information and data about the safe use of medication during pregnancy and lactation for women and for their healthcare professionals. Research and pharmacovigilance must be improved to ensure safe and effective use of medicines during pregnancy and lactation in order to provide robust information and advice for health professionals, mothers and pregnant women.  A publicly-funded comprehensive European Pharmacovigilance system should be established to collect data, knowledge and close the information gap.

Healthy ageing must be a priority on the health and social agenda of the EU and Member States.  Europe has the highest proportion of older women globally. Women are at the forefront of ageing due to their greater longevity, their multiple carer and societal roles and lower financial resources. Women earn 16% less and receive pensions that are 40% lower than men.   Integrated approaches must be used to empower and support women to age healthily to reduce isolation and poverty in old age.

The EIWH Manifesto calls on the European Union to translate biological differences and social influences  into regulatory and healthcare practice, requiring research data to be disaggregated by sex, age and social status and invest in a life-course approach to health promotion tackling inequalities in line with Articles 160/168 –Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the European Pillar of Social Rights

Peggy Maguire

European Institute of Women’s Health

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