'No exceptions, no exclusions, no excuses' - 6 industry experts make the case for women's health
- It is our collective responsibility to implement an inclusive and transformative post-COVID recovery effort by empowering women and girls.
- The health of women and girls must be prioritized in the post-pandemic push for global cooperation and unity of purpose.
- Women and girls are powerful actors of change for sustainable development.
- The International Day of Action for Women’s Health will see activists around the world take action, mobilize, and highlight demands towards the fulfillment of women’s right to health.
Women and girls are powerful actors of change for sustainable development. The pandemic exposed sharp economic and social inequalities and widened the already-existing gender gap for the most vulnerable by 36 years.
While the world faces an ongoing pandemic, humanitarian crises and natural disasters, it is more important than ever to make progress towards gender equality and invest in women’s and girls’ health, as this will be a critical element of any sustainable economic recovery. A report from McKinsey Global Institute estimates that taking actions now in advancing gender equality could contribute to adding $13trillion to global GDP in 2030.
It is our collective responsibility to implement an inclusive and transformative recovery effort by empowering women and girls. In this context, the World Economic Forum asked six inspiring industry leaders to tell us how they contribute to advancing gender equality and what bold actions they are taking to protect and improve women’s and girls’ health.
'Data can... boost women’s health... and measure success'
Stephen P. MacMillan, CEO, Hologic, Inc.
Healthy women are the cornerstones of healthy economies and societies. However, women’s health has been on the back burner of policy for too long. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this.
According to the UN, women were significantly worse affected by the virus’ impact. They also missed screenings for diseases like cancer and heart disease in record numbers.
Data can help countries boost women’s health, focus on the right priorities and measure success. Hologic teamed with Gallup to produce the Hologic Global Women’s Health Index – a multi-year global women’s health study. The findings were stark. Only 12% of women were tested for any type of cancer in 2020. Their emotional health also meaningfully declined. This affects policies including security, development, and gender equality.
Hologic is using these insights in partnership with WEF through the Protecting Women & Girls’ Health initiative, which aims to accelerate actionable public-private sector collaboration in three priority areas:
- Access to sexual and reproductive health solutions
- Gender-based violence
- Unequal access to education for young women and girls
Putting women’s health at the forefront is overdue. We have opportunities to act on International Women’s Day and every day. Data on women’s health tells us what needs to be done. We must take note, then work together to act on it.
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'Investments in women’s health are vital for our emergence from the pandemic'
Sandra E Brooks, MD, MBA, Executive Vice President and Chief Community Health Equity Officer, Jefferson Health, Chief Medical Officer, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Sidney Kimmel College of Medicine
The pandemic showed us again how deeply and profoundly the world’s healthcare systems fail women, especially women of color. Even before Covid-19 began its march of devastation, the Hologic Global Women’s Health Index showed that one billion women on this planet have no access to professional health care. We saw this disparity here in our city of Philadelphia, where among the most affected were single parent households, headed predominantly by women.
Many women were exposed due to a combination of in-person jobs and unpaid roles that put them at risk from Covid, while making healthcare access difficult. In the United States, non-white women bore the brunt of job losses during the height of the pandemic. That is because women, especially non-white women, are more likely to be in positions that require in-person work in the hospitality, restaurant, personal services, child and government services. Nearly one in four public sector workers are black women.
This economic devastation compounded by pre-existing disparities will result in adverse health outcomes for years to come.
• Maternity: I am deeply concerned about the increase during the pandemic of maternal deaths, stillbirths, and ruptured ectopic pregnancies, especially among lower-income women.
• Cancer: We saw breast and cervical cancer screening drop nearly 90% in the early days of the pandemic, and are still lower among non-white women. The result will be thousands of excess breast cancer deaths in the U.S. as women develop advanced disease that could have been treated at earlier stages.
• Heart disease: The higher rates of pre-existing hypertension coupled with Covid-19 infection in Black women increases risk for a heart attack or blood clot. Job loss, stress, social isolation, and pre-existing unequal diagnosis and treatment are having a devastating impact in vulnerable communities.
Hospitals cannot solve this alone. We need a collaboration of institutional and business leaders to look at how their business and policy decisions impact health equity. We need to identify and act on gaps in access, treatment and care, and we need to invest in reversing social determinants of health. The social and economic return on investment will be ultimately measured in access to preventive services, treatment, experience, and quality of life. These strategically focused investments will begin to narrow the gaps and bend the cost, morbidity and mortality curve.
Here in Philadelphia, we made a major investment through Jefferson’s Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity, to work purposefully with community partners to address our most vulnerable communities. Only a powerful combination of strategic focus, philanthropy, innovation, collaboration and commitment at the highest levels will begin to reverse the devastating collateral damage this pandemic has caused.
'Innovating and collaborating so that no woman dies while giving life'
Per Falk, President of Ferring Pharmaceuticals
As we mark this year’s International Women's Day, we will only achieve a world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive if we continue to work together to find lasting solutions.
At Ferring, our purpose is to build families and we believe in everyone’s right to a family. Yet, at every stage of the journey from conception to birth, millions of women around the world are unable to access the care, treatment and support they need. We don't accept this.
This is why we embarked on a decade-long public-private collaboration to develop and launch a heat-stable treatment to prevent excessive bleeding after birth, known as postpartum haemorrhage (PPH). With 90% of the 70,000 deaths from PPH each year occurring in low- and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) – this is a real step forward when dealing with the stability of medicines in hot climates.
But we know innovation alone is not enough. By 2030, our ambition is to protect the lives of 20 million women and their families by making this treatment available to over 80 LMICs at a sustainable access price.
Closer to home, we recognize the significant pressure on healthcare systems due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. That’s why we are donating our heat-stable treatment in Ukraine to protect the lives of mothers giving birth under extreme conditions while trying to maintain supply of our other medicines in difficult circumstances. We also commit to supporting the emergency relief efforts to help families in need of shelter and safety by donating to humanitarian agencies.
Equally our work on achieving a gender equal world, continues at every level. From 1 July 2022, our new family building support package will come into effect for all Ferring employees. This holistic package will include family benefits and a 26-week global minimum of paid parental leave for both birthing and non-birthing parents. In addition, we will provide increased awareness and support for people in the workplace.
This is designed to facilitate opportunities for an inclusive family forming experience in the early phases of a child’s life, recognising and celebrating the shift from traditional gender roles and family structures. Everyone’s family building journey is unique, but we know that for some it is more challenging.
Additional leave policies will enable our people to make time in their lives for fertility treatment, IVF cycles and adoption procedures, and we will also be providing additional, equal parental leave for premature births or loss. Ultimately, we want to help those who want to build a family - no matter who you are, where you live or who you love.
'A call for action to help women prioritize their health'
Kevin Ali, CEO, Organon
The COVID-19 pandemic is unraveling hard-fought gains for women, and the health disparities women face have increased. Women are under immense pressure and it’s impacting their health.
Many women feel burned out, which can take a huge toll on their physical and mental health. Even before the pandemic, in a survey from 2015, 78% of women said they did not prioritize taking care of their own health because they were too busy looking after their loved ones.
At Organon, we believe that when women are healthy, they prosper – and when women prosper, so too do their communities and society as a whole. That’s why we are raising awareness of the need to focus on health to advance gender equity. One step we have taken at Organon is to give all employees paid time off on International Women’s Day to put their health and the health of women in their lives first.
Together we can do so much more. Please consider joining us on International Women’s Day on March 8 by adopting initiatives that help women prioritize their health. We hope this provides the inspiration to take action and help address the health disparities women face, not only on International Women’s Day, but every day.
'No exceptions, no exclusions, no excuses'
Mary-Ann Etiebet, AVP of Health Equity, and Lead, MSD for Mothers at MSD, also known as Merck in the US and Canada
If you are a woman in a low-income country, you have a 1 in 45 chance of dying from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. With maternal mortality rates still at 10X the global target, achieving zero preventable maternal deaths by 2030 will require more than incremental or linear progress. It will require exponential rates of change in our ability to save the lives of mothers.
Where will that transformation come from? Directly from women and girls. Progress will be made when we close the gender gap – often exacerbated by intersecting forms of discrimination – and all women are fully valued. We need women to design and lead the transformation themselves.
This will require the global health and development community to change how we operate. Since 2011, MSD for Mothers – our company's $650 million initiative to help create a world where no woman has to die while giving life – has invested in solutions to help end preventable maternal deaths in over 60 countries. We have learned that sustainable transformation occurs when we put the diverse voices, experiences and solutions of women and girls at the core of our efforts.
The COVID pandemic has taken away lives and livelihoods and has eroded the ability of health systems to meet basic sexual, reproductive and maternal health needs. Our own internal organizational cultures and processes must be more inclusive and our investments localized in order to bring about the societal change needed for a healthier, more equal future. No exceptions, no exclusions, no excuses.
'We have to model the change we want to see'
Susanne Schaffert, President, Novartis Oncology
The pandemic shone a spotlight on the growing gender gap in healthcare—from access to lack of services and representation in the workplace. But ahead of us, there is hope and an opportunity to do better.
As leaders in healthcare, we need to model the change we want to see. Let’s challenge the status quo and old ways of thinking. And let’s ensure that companies create or maintain gender balance across senior and leadership positions, ensure pay equity, interview through balanced candidate panels, provide pay transparency, and implement policies like gender-neutral parental leave and flexible working practices.
We should all set goals and pledges, like we have done at Novartis, around gender-balanced representation in management. Today, we need to work together to remove the gender gap. It will take time, but together, we can create a more equitable future for all.