Jill Biden announces White House Women’s Health initiative

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The White House today announced the nation’s first initiative for Women’s Health Research, which will be led by First lady Jill Biden.

“We have a clear goal to fundamentally change how we approach and fund women’s health research,” Biden said during a press conference ahead of the announcement Monday morning. 

The initiative, guided by the White House Gender Policy Council, will coordinate with federal, executive departments and agencies including the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, and Veterans Affairs, and the Office of Management and Budget. 

In 45 days, members of the initiative will give the Biden administration recommendations on how to close the research gap for women’s health care through diagnosis, treatment, and prevention plans, according to a senior administration official. The initiative will also jointly work with the private sector, specifically the scientific and philanthropic communities.  

Women’s health research is consistently underfunded

“Research on women’s health has been underfunded for decades,” Biden says. “Many conditions that mostly or only affect women, or affect women differently, have received little to no attention … These gaps are even greater for communities that have historically been excluded from research, including women of color and women with disabilities.”

While the National Institute of Health (NIH) has a women’s health research arm, only 10.8% of funding is spent on women’s health, according to the senior administration officials on the press call. Investment in national research does not reflect how certain conditions disproportionately affect women, such as heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s. While women make up two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases, only 12% of NIH funding for the disease and related dementias is aimed at women, for example. 

“It’s a big day for every woman in this country, no matter her age, her political affiliation, her religious identity or ethnicity,” Maria Shriver, a nationally recognized women’s health care advocate, said during the press conference. “This is an historic moment for women and their families and their health care providers.”

Shriver added: “For decades, we’ve been asking for equity when it comes to investing in women’s health research. But, it has taken this President and this first lady to address the issue of how sick women are in this country, and how women can age most successfully into the future.” 

Especially as the nation gets older, and more women face uncharted health problems, it’s vital to have more research on women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s—many of whom have not been armed with the education to age in this country, Shriver said. 

“Every woman, half of the population, will be affected by menopause,” Biden said. “And yet, there’s a stunning lack of information about how to manage and treat its symptoms, which can be debilitating.” 

This initiative will target both reproductive health care research and post-reproductive health care such as perimenopause and menopause. 

“The bottom line is that we can’t treat women or prevent them from becoming sick in the first place if we have not invested in funding the necessary research,” Shriver says. “That changes today.”

The White House appointed Dr. Carolyn Mazure to the Chair of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research. She was a professor in women’s health research, psychiatry and psychology at the Yale School of Medicine.

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