News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Sex inequalities in health care need tackling

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 07 April 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:808
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

    Pressure is growing on healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical companies to grant greater importance to sex inequalities in public health policies. Swedish Green MEP Eva-Britt Svensson has begun preparing a report on the issue for the European parliament, which she expects to complete in July.

    “I want to look at how men and women with the same disease are treated and to establish whether there are differences in the care they receive. Once we have a clear picture we can then see whether the European Union or national authorities can do something about this,” she explained.

    Ms Svensson's investigation will also focus on the way in which research into illnesses that predominantly affect women is done. This follows concerns that clinical trials concentrate overwhelmingly on the impact that new medicines will have on men. According to figures given by a European Commission official at a public hearing on sex differences and public health, organised by the European parliament last week, 70% of drug trials involve men. The commission is planning to draw attention to the problem of sex inequalities in its new health programme, which it aims to present soon.

    Research at the dermatology department of Danderyd Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, provided participants at the hearing with a concrete example—but, as yet, no explanations—of the unequal treatment of psoriasis. For every 100 men receiving whole body phototherapy in the clinic during the working day, only 59 women were given the same treatment. Not only were women more likely to be recommended to treat themselves at home, but when in hospital they were given treatment only half as often as men.

    French research shows clear sex differences in the use of psychotropic and antidepressant drugs. Women in France are almost twice as likely to take them as men. Similarly, 19 000 women are admitted to hospital every year for severe long term depression compared with 13 000 men.

    The European Public Health Alliance, which represents 100 non-governmental organisations and other not for profit groups, supports research into sex differences and public health. It believes this should be as comprehensive as possible.

    Tamsin Rose, the umbrella organisation's general secretary, explained, “The real issue is that there are both biological and social aspects. Our concern is that this issue will fall between the health and employment camps and no one will take the lead.”

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