Women’s health problems: a systematic disadvantage

Women’s health problems: a systematic disadvantage

Medicine that focuses primarily on men has fatal consequences for women’s health – but also for health insurance companies. An interview with AOK board member Isabella Erb-Herrmann.

This is original content from the Capital brand. This article will be available for ten days on stern.de. After that, you will find it exclusively on capital.de. Capital, like the star to RTL Germany.

Heart attacks in women are diagnosed too late, they are given the wrong medication, many illnesses are not discovered or are dismissed as depression. Do we have macho medicine?
We have a medicine that is still based on beliefs that are thousands of years old. 2,500 years ago, Aristotle declared the male body to be the standard and women to be an “unfortunate” deviation from this norm – a perspective that has been retained in knowledge and practices for centuries. To date, most medicines are still tested on men who weigh 80 kilograms. This one-sided approach was and is fatal for women’s health.

Isabella Erb-Herrmann is AOK board member in Hesse

What are the consequences?
Women suffer greatly from incorrect dosage and inadequate consideration of their metabolism and hormone levels. They suffer side effects from medication much more often than men. In addition, the packages are systematically too large and some of them end up in the trash. This leads to high costs for the health insurance companies and therefore also for the insured and is also not sustainable.

For decades, clinical studies were conducted almost exclusively on men. Has that changed in the meantime?
In the EU, pharmaceutical manufacturers have been required to conduct clinical trials with a representative gender and age distribution since January 31, 2022. Such an approach can lead to a safe and equal supply of medicines in the future. However, it takes several years from clinical research to the market launch of a drug. Therefore, the regulation will probably not have a real impact on the market for at least five years. Incidentally, the imbalance begins even before that: male animals are also preferred in the animal models of preclinical studies. Of course, here too, the sexes react differently to active ingredients. And to my knowledge, no gender-adjusted regulation has yet been made in this area.

Pregnancy, endometriosis and menopause are currently very stigmatized in research. How can this be changed?
When developing and investing in new drugs and therapies, pharmaceutical manufacturers focus on the “additional medical benefit”. This is a prerequisite for approval. In order to evaluate this additional benefit, data is needed. However, this is not yet available for research areas such as endometriosis and menopausal symptoms, as women have traditionally endured this “silently” and there are almost no statistics on this. Only when we have more data will something probably happen in pharmaceutical research. It is important that we close these gaps now, otherwise the disadvantage for women in healthcare will become even greater, as algorithms and AI play an increasingly important role in healthcare. And they base their results on existing data. Politicians must also take up the issue more and see women’s health as an “investment in society”. France, for example, has a national endometriosis strategy.

How can you, as a large health insurance company, achieve improvements and provide incentives?
As health insurance companies, we can above all educate people. For example, we at AOK are currently planning a campaign on women’s health next year. The issues are becoming more important, women are becoming more visible because they are networking and politically active. There are the top women in health, the healthcare women, but also the German Female Doctors’ Association and the Midwives’ Association.

Source: Stern

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