WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Monday announced a White House initiative aimed at improving how the federal government approaches and funds research on the health of women, who make up more than half of the U.S. population but remain understudied and underrepresented in health research.
This underrepresentation can lead to large research gaps and potentially serious consequences for women’s health across the country, Biden administration officials and others told reporters during a conference call at the White House to announce the new effort.
The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research will be led by first lady Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.
President Joe Biden said he has long believed in the “power of research” to help save lives and provide high-quality health care to people who need it. Surrounded by the first lady and other officials who will play a role in the government effort, Biden signed documents in the Oval Office on Monday to direct federal departments and agencies to begin their work.
“To achieve scientific advances and strengthen our ability to prevent, detect and treat disease, we must be bold,” the president said in a written statement. He said the initiative “will drive innovation in women’s health and fill research gaps.”
Jill Biden said on the conference call that she met earlier this year with former California first lady and women’s health advocate Maria Shriver, who “raised the need for an effort from within and outside of government to fill the gaps in women’s health research that have persisted for too long. »
“When I raised this issue with my husband, Joe, a few months ago, he listened. And then he acted,” the first lady said. “That’s what he does.”
Jill Biden has worked on women’s health issues since the early 1990s, after several of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer and she created a program in Delaware to teach high school girls about health care of the breast.
Shriver said she and other women’s health advocates have spent decades calling for fairness in research, but that the Democratic president and first lady “understand that we cannot answer the question of know how to treat women medically if we don’t have the answers that come only from research.”
Shriver said women make up two-thirds of people with Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis, and make up more than three-quarters of those diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
Women suffer from depression and anxiety at twice the rate of men, and women of color are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, she said. Millions of other women face the side effects of menopause.
“The bottom line is we can’t treat them or prevent them from getting sick if we haven’t invested in funding the necessary research,” Shriver said on the call. “That changes today.”
Jennifer Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said leaders of government departments and agencies important to women’s health research will participate, including those from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Defense and National Institutes of Health. among others.
Women’s health issues were raised by most of the women serving on the Senate Health Committee during its recent confirmation hearing of Dr. Monica Bertagnolli appointment as permanent director of the National Institutes of Health, one of the world’s leading biomedical research agencies. Bertagnolli gave a general response in which she said too little is known about women’s health at all stages of life.
Biden’s memorandum asks members to report back within 45 days with “concrete recommendations” to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of women’s health issues. It also asks them to identify “priority areas of focus”, such as research ranging from heart attacks in women to menopause, where further investment could be “transformative”.
The president also wants collaboration with the scientific, private and philanthropic communities.
Carolyn Mazure will chair the research effort. Mazure joined the first lady’s office after leaving the Yale School of Medicine, where she established its Women’s Health Research Center.
This story was first published on November 13, 2023. It was republished on November 16, 2023, to correct Maria Shriver saying “invested” not “infested.”
AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.