Health and Healthcare Systems

Gender health gap shows year-on-year improvement, plus other health stories you need to know about

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Gender health gap shows marginal improvement, according to the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report 2023.

Gender health gap shows marginal improvement, according to the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report 2023. Image: Unsplash/Bruno Nascimento

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

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  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: Health and survival gender gap shows marginal improvement; WHO expands list of prequalified HPV tests; Daytime naps may delay brain shrinkage.

1. Global health gender gap shows improvement

The global gender gap on health and survival has improved year-on-year, and is one of the narrowest gaps measured by the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report 2023.

Men and women are 96% towards parity on health and survival issues, the report shows. This is a marginal improvement of 0.2 percentage points since last year, but an actual drop of 0.3 percentage points since the index was first launched in 2006.

The remaining 4% to reach equal treatment and outcomes is one of the smallest gaps to close – and contrasts with the political empowerment gap at the other end of the scale, which is only 22% towards parity.

More broadly, having taken a hit during the pandemic, gender parity globally has recovered to previous levels, but the pace of change has stalled as a result of the polycrisis.

A chart of gender gaps globally, showing the health and survival gap is 96% closed.
There has been in improvement in the health and survival gender gap. Image: Global Gender Gap Report 2023

2. WHO prequalifies additional HPV test in the fight to eliminate cervical cancer

The World Health Organization (WHO) has added a fourth test to its list of prequalified tests for human papillomavirus (HPV). In some circumstances, HPV can lead to cervical cancer, so screening for HPV infection is a vital tool in combatting the disease.

The WHO's prequalification programme for in vitro diagnostics evaluates a range of tests and helps make them available to countries. Expanding the number of tests on the list is part of the WHO's mission to support countries in reaching more people with high-quality screening.

Despite being preventable and curable, cervical cancer continues to be a significant healthcare burden for women around the world, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Roche Molecular Systems Inc’s cobas HPV assay now joins QIAGEN GmBH’s careHPV Test, Abbott GmbH’s Abbott RealTime High-Risk HPV, and Cepheid AB’s Xpert HPV, to bring the number of tests to four.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

3. News in brief: More health stories from around the world

The World Economic Forum has released a China edition of its Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook report, which looks at the progress and challenges faced by the healthcare systems in China. Despite challenges, the report finds that the vision for health and healthcare in 2035 is 'ambitious yet achievable' and China is in 'a strong position' to facilitate the public and private partnerships that can shape healthcare systems for the better.

New research suggests that taking a short daytime nap may help slow brain shrinkage commonly linked with age. Researchers at UCL and the University of the Republic in Uruguay used data from the UK Biobank and found that habitual naps may be associated with a larger brain volume. This could be relevant as brain shrinkage is accelerated in people with cognitive problems and neurodegenerative diseases.

The Netherlands is to offer free sun protection to its citizens this summer to address skin cancer in the country. The government is making sun cream dispensers available in schools, parks and various public venues. Many skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV rays and so broad-spectrum sunscreen which filters out these rays is an important part of a protection strategy. However, the chemicals in some sunscreens have also been shown to be environmentally damaging.

The US Food and Drug Administration has recommended that the updated coronavirus vaccines for use in the autumn should target one of the XBB variants currently dominating circulation. The news comes as childhood immunization rates start to show signs of recovery in the world's poorest countries, after being disrupted during the pandemic. Global health groups had called the impact of COVID-19 on vaccination levels "the largest backslide in a generation".

4. More on health from Agenda

An increasingly ageing population – especially in China, Japan, Korea, and Viet Nam – will have a major impact on the global economy by 2035. The effects are likely to be especially acute in China, as 30% of its population will be aged 60 and over. Technology can help bridge the gap between generations without compromising the benefits of ageing independently.

Over 100 million people had become refugees by the end of 2022 due to conflict, violence, persecution and climate disasters. Refugees and rural host communities face greater barriers to accessing health services, despite frequently experiencing greater health needs.

Africa is falling behind on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) targets: around 43% of the population lacks access to basic healthcare and about 11 million people are driven into poverty annually as a result of paying for it. But the technology powering the fintech boom can transform health systems and reach those most excluded.

1. Global health gender gap shows improvement2. WHO prequalifies additional HPV test in the fight to eliminate cervical cancer3. News in brief: More health stories from around the world4. More on health from Agenda

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