Health and Healthcare Systems

The gender bias in US healthcare costs - and other health stories you need to read this week

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A woman takes medicine.

Health news round-up ... Women in the US are paying more for their healthcare than men. Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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 global health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: Research reveals a significant gender disparity in medical expenses; COVID-19 vaccine pioneers take Nobel prize; WHO recommends second malaria vaccine.

1. US women face $15 billion more per year in out-of-pocket healthcare costs than men

Healthcare costs for employed women in the United States are estimated to be $15 billion greater than for employed men, according to research by Deloitte. This financial burden adds to the wage disparity seen between men and women, and persists even when maternity-related services are excluded.

An average female employee with single coverage incurs approximately $266 more in out-of-pocket expenses each year than her male counterpart, an increase of almost 18%, analysis suggests.

This gender bias means that health insurance products may inadvertently create an income gap for working women and demonstrates a need for employers to scrutinize benefits to make healthcare more affordable for female employees.

The health benefit gap: summary of key analysis findings.
Women in the US are paying more for healthcare coverage than men. Image: Deloitte

2. Nobel prize for medicine goes to COVID-19 vaccine pioneers

Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman have been selected as winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize for Medicine, for their work paving the way for COVID-19 vaccines.

The pair's work fundamentally changed our understanding of how messenger RNA (mRNA) interacts with the immune system, and enabled the rapid development of mRNA-based vaccines at the height of the pandemic.

More than 13 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been given globally, and it is hoped that in the future other vaccines could be developed based on the same technology, delivering therapeutic proteins and treating some types of cancer.

Separately, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is to give $40 million to help advance mRNA vaccines for protection against various diseases in Africa.

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

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the use of a second vaccine against malaria, which is expected to become available in 2024. The vaccine, which was developed by the University of Oxford in the UK, joins a previous vaccine from GSK recommended for use by the WHO in 2021.

An early-stage study of a combined flu and COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna indicates it generated a strong immune response compared to separate vaccines, the company says. The combination was also found to be safe and tolerable. Moderna is hoping the combined vaccine will be available for the 2025 flu season.

A proposed ban on PFAS, or "forever chemicals", would render medicine production in the region impossible, according to European drug-makers. Responding to the EU's consultation on a proposed ban on PFAs, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said without exemptions "the entire pharmaceutical industry would no longer be able to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients ... or associated medicinal products in the EEA". The group, which includes major players such as Pfizer, Roche and Novartis, acknowledged the use of some PFAs in drug production, but does not oppose regulating certain harmful ones.

Dengue fever will become a major threat in the southern United States, southern Europe and new parts of Africa this decade, the WHO's chief scientist has warned. Warmer temperatures caused by the climate crisis are creating conditions for mosquitoes carrying the infection to spread it. Rates of the disease are already climbing rapidly, driven by climate change, urbanization and the increased movement of people.


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

4. More on health from Agenda

Lego has launched its Braille Bricks to the general public - a 300-piece set with studs arranged to correspond to the numbers and letters in the braille system, making it more accessible for vision-impaired children.

The Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience has created a series of recommendations for policymakers on how to build robust healthcare workforces. Based on significant research, the roadmap also includes real-world examples of solutions being implemented.

Diagnostics are an important but often overlooked part of healthcare. Despite also being cost-efficient, data shows that 47% of the world doesn’t yet have access to even the most basic diagnostics.

1. US women face $15 billion more per year in out-of-pocket healthcare costs than men2. Nobel prize for medicine goes to COVID-19 vaccine pioneers3. News in brief: More health stories from around the world4. More on health from Agenda

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