Two separate studies are revealing the toll the pandemic is having on women’s health including a treatment for COVID-19 that may only benefit men.
According a study out of the University of Calgary, the main treatment for severe COVID-19 lung infections, dexamethasone, alters how immune cells work, but while the steroids may help male patients they have little to no benefit for females.
Dr. Bryan Yipp, an associate professor at the Department of Critical Care Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine, says it’s possible the mainstay therapy for severe COVID-19 is only benefiting half of the population.
“That’s a big problem not only in the COVID world but generally in medicine. Many medications are not well studied equally in both sexes,”Dr. Yipp said. “We need to look down to the immune system to find out what these drugs are doing, but currently there is no female-specific medication that would improve female mortality – at least none that have been reported as of yet.”
The purpose of the study was to better understand how steroids helped, and evaluate why a clinical trial of steroids in COVID-19 only helped some males but not females. The study found that the dexamethasone therapy in Alberta reduced the number of males dying but had no effect on the female population.
“That was an unsettling observation,” Dr. Yipp said. “You only get a small window of knowledge when you only study white males of a certain age but that has historically happened for lots of drugs and lots of interventions so it’s a big problem in medicine.”
He believes researchers need to figure out how to make therapies without a sex bias that benefit more people, rather than a blanket approach.
Dr. Yipp, Jeff Biernaskie and the team of researchers collected blood from both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients admitted to Calgary ICUs in severe respiratory distress.
The project was supported by the Thistledown Foundation and the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society.
REPORT REVEALS COVID-19’S MENTAL HEALTH TOLL ON WOMEN
Heightened stress, mental health issues and cancelled medical appointments are creating a crisis for women’s health and are only exacerbated by the pandemic, according to a report by The Alberta Women’s Health Foundation (AWHF).
‘Finding the Fractures: The Pandemic, Women’s Health Disparities, and the Path to Equity’ includes results of a survey of 1,657 Albertans, three-quarters of which were women, between May 3 and 25, 2021.
Sixty-three per cent of women reported pandemic stress was negatively affecting their physical health, while 11 per cent thought about harming themselves and eight were diagnosed with a mental health disorder during the pandemic.
Sharlene Rutherford, AWHF CEO, says mothers are among those shouldering the heaviest emotional burden of social isolation, household duties and child or elder care, compared to men.
“This pandemic has impacted everyone, there is no question, but the fact remains that women continue to shoulder the greatest burden of responsibilities when it comes to family, caring for family and getting to medical appointments,” Rutherford said.
The report also reveals the pandemic has created barriers preventing women from getting the care they need as well, with some 60,000 pap tests for cervical cancer postponed and 41,180 mammograms paused between March and April of 2021.
The report shows that navigating COVID-19 at home is also affecting women’s career opportunities.
Forty per cent of respondents in the survey said they were considering working fewer hours and 25 per cent were considering leaving the workforce altogether.
The AWHF is calling on governments to prioritize women in pandemic recovery plans and for businesses to invest in women’s health research and more flexibility in the workplace.
“If we want to have a full economic recovery post pandemic, federally and here in Alberta, we need to lead with women, right? When we solve for women, we solve for the whole population, and we solve for our economy too because it comes down to these things,” Rutherford said.