Closing the women’s health gap: a $1 trillion opportunity to improve lives and economies

8 March 2024

When talking about women’s health challenges, people often say that, on average, women live longer than men. However, this overlooks the fact that women spend 25% more of their lives dealing with health issues which limit their well-being and influence the ability to earn a living, support themselves, and take care of their families. Facing these health issues during their working years affects the ability to be present and/or productive at home, in the workforce, and in the community.  

Beyond the societal impacts, addressing the gaps in women’s health allows them to participate in the workforce more actively, boosting the economy by at least $1 trillion annually by 2040. The report highlights 4 primary areas that need to be addressed to close the women’s health gap:  

  1. Science: historically, men have both led and been the subject of the study of medicine and biology and most animal models have been based on male specimens, as a results fewer available and less effective treatments for women exist. To understand basic female biology better, fundamentally new research tools should be developed that better classify women’s symptoms and manifestations of disease.  

  2. Data: many of the epidemiological and clinical datasets widely used today exclude or undervalue important conditions, failing to provide a complete picture of women’s health.  

  3. Care delivery: inequalities exist throughout the full pathway of care, from awareness and prevention to accessibility and affordability of care, from timely diagnosis to the choice of treatment. For women, not only it is difficult to receive a clear diagnosis and proper care, but the frequent misdiagnoses influence how investors and researchers decide what’s important and how big the market for solutions might be. As a result, it is not possible to identify clearly the underlying prevalence or the symptom severity often associated with less common conditions, leading to misdiagnosis. 

  4. Investment: investments in women’s health conditions have been disproportionately low relative to the prevalence of these conditions, leading to a widening of the women’s health gap. Right now, most of the global research and development in life sciences mainly target health issues that cause a significant loss of years in people’s lives. Unfortunately, this approach tends to overlook women because they are more likely to face conditions that impact their quality of life, measured in terms of years lived with a disability, rather than just how long they live. 

The disparities in women’s health not only affect women’s quality of life but also their economic participation. Investing in improving women’s health can not only improve women’s quality of life but also enable them to participate more actively in the workforce, and lead to a positive return on investment (ROI): for every $1 invested, approximately $3 is projected in economic growth.  

To move ahead, we must act on 5 different aspects including investing in women-centric research ; systematically collecting and analyzing sex-, ethnicity-, and gender-specific data to have more accurate representation of women’s health burden and the impact of different interventions; enhancing access to gender-specific care; creating incentives for new financing models to close the women’s health gap and establishing business policies that support women’s health. 

Source: McKinsey Health Institute 

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