The White House announced on Monday that it is launching an initiative to improve research on women’s health, as America’s maternal mortality rates climb and nonwhite women continue to face health disparities.
The initiative will be led by Dr. Carolyn Mazure, a Yale University women’s health researcher, on behalf of the White House’s Gender Policy Council and the Office of the First Lady.
“If you ask any woman in America about her health care, she probably has a story to tell,” First Lady Jill Biden said on a press call Wednesday.
“You know her. She’s the woman who gets debilitating migraines, but doesn’t know why and can’t find treatment options that work for her,” she continued. “She’s the woman whose heart disease isn’t recognized because her symptoms are considered non-cardiac, and the traditional testing used to diagnose a heart attack was developed based on men. … She’s the woman going through menopause, who visits with her doctor and leaves with more questions than answers.”
According to the White House, the initiative directs federal agencies and executive departments to recommend actions within 45 days that the administration can take to improve both how research on women’s health is conducted and how the Biden administration funds that research.
“Research on women’s health has been underfunded for decades, and many conditions that mostly or only affect women, or affect women differently, have received little to no attention,” the first lady said. “Because of these gaps, we know far too little about how to manage and treat conditions like endometriosis, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.”
One issue that has plagued women in the U.S. is the rising rate of maternal mortality, which many women have become increasingly concerned about given the restrictions on reproductive care following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,205 women in the U.S. died of maternal causes in 2021, compared with 861 the previous year, and 754 in 2019. A study released earlier this year by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that maternal deaths in the U.S. more than doubled between 2009 and 2019.
“These gaps are even greater for communities that have historically been excluded from research ― including women of color and women with disabilities.”
Indeed, studies have shown that trans people, disabled women and nonwhite women ― Black women, in particular ― experience substantial health inequities in the U.S.
According to a 2021 study, the disparities Black women face in America is also due to social, economic and environmental racism that allow health issues like heart disease, maternal mortality and shorter life expectancy to persist. The study highlighted how the racist history of medicine in the U.S. has and continues to put Black women “at the center of a public health emergency.”
“Black women have continued to make significant inroads in many disciplines yet remain one of the few demographic groups that must advocate for themselves to receive consistent and high-quality care,” the study said. “We have outlined disparities in several health conditions and the fire mortality outcomes experienced by Black women.”
“Health does not exist outside its social context,” it continued. “Without equity in social and economic conditions, health equity is unlikely to be achieved, and one cost of health inequality has been the lives of Black women.”