Investing in Women’s Health Research Saves Lives, According to Paula Johnson

Women are not getting the full benefit of modern science, technology and medicine. Paula Johnson gives a Ted Talk called “His and Hers… Health Care”. In her presentation, she discusses that women’s health if left almost completely up to chance. It was only just over twenty years ago that there was hardly any data on women’s health other than reproductive organs. Johnson continues, saying that in 1993, the NIH Revitalization Act was implemented, mandating that women, among other minorities, are to be included in medical clinical trials.

Investing in Women’s Health Research Saves Lives, according to Paula Johnson. This was a step forward for the medical industry, because it was learned that there are major differences between men and women’s experiences of several, if not most, diseases. However, these differences that women experienced from men, continued to be overlooked within the health care system. Johnson states that women’s health is being left to chance for two reasons: the first, because the medical industry has so much more to learn, but is not making the investment in women’s health to make it possible, and the second is people are not taking what they have learned and applying it to clinical treatment on women. Therefore, this is not only an issue of integrity or of medicine, it is also an equal rights issue. 

Johnson says that every cell in the human body is either male or female, therefore, women and men react differently and may show drastically different symptoms for the same diseases. Paula shares a story about a middle-aged woman named Linda, who has a heart disease and went to see her doctor to get tested due to her symptoms. Her tests showed up negative. It was not until Paula’s team ran an ultrasound that it was realized that women with this particular heart disease show completely different symptoms than men do, and it does not show up on the tests that are designed for men. Had Linda not received a second opinion, she would have suffered much longer with her condition.

Paula then discusses a specific example of women’s healthcare taking a backseat to men’s involving lung cancer: a disease that is the leading cancer-causing death in the United States. She says that her investigators discovered that estrogen is the main cause of activation of the lung tumor cells and may be associated with a higher rate of survival amoung young women. This new statistic provides hope for women and even men fighting lung cancer, thanks to funding research for women. 

Another example Johnson shares, involves the prevalence of depression in women, which she states was the leading cause of disability in the world in 2013. Once again, it was Paula’s team that conducted the research proving that men and women experience drastic differences when exposed to stress, shown on MRI scans. Unfortunately, it is still a prominent issue. Although the medical industry is fully aware of the differences in men and women when it comes to not only depression, but several other diseases, including heart disease (the leading cause of death in women in the united States), 66% of medical tests performed on animals are done on either male or non-identifying gender animals. So, why leave women’s health to chance? The medical industry has the tools to invest in women’s health, and they have the knowledge that women experience diseases in many different ways than men. The medical industry continues to overlook the health of women, regardless of resources and knowledge available.

Lastly, Paula states that a new lung cancer drug in 2013 included women in the trial, and the results were astounding; 82% of the tumors that shrunk due to the drug, were in women. This led to the treatment of lung cancer that incorporates the sex of an individual. Finally, people were shown what medicine can accomplish by not only including women in research, but perhaps funding research to improve the treatment of women in the healthcare system. 

Investment in research saves lives; studies show that tens of thousands of dollars are invested in breast cancer research, increasing with each death that occurs at the hands of the disease. Overtime, the death rate for women with breast cancer decreases because of the funds that have been dedicated to prolonging treatment and finding a cure. Conversely, little to no funds have been donated or raised for lung cancer, and one can see the impact of the lack of investment in women’s health as, over time, the death rate increases.

Why are women being neglected by the medical industry in this way? This is an equal rights issue that is just as important as reproductive rights for women and the issue of the gender wage gap. Paula Johnson urges everyone, especially women themselves, to challenge the issue of the lack of investment in women’s healthcare research by asking their doctors if a particular disease or treatment differs in women. Chances are, the doctor may not know yet, but it is necessary for women to take their healthcare into their own hands, ask important questions and hope the doctor will look for the answer (which is probably, “yes”). Doing this could not only potentially save your own life or your loved one’s life, it could be the first step to enhancing healthcare for females everywhere.

Note: This article is part of our Fall 2020 Print Edition that focuses on Women Health and Sexuality. Look across campus for a paper copy of this edition!