Will endometriosis be exempt from the gender pass over?

A new McKinsey report finds women’s health gap equates to 75 million years of life lost due to poor health or early death per year, the equivalent of seven days per woman per year.

February 16, 2024 09:48 am | Updated 10:11 am IST

A woman will spend an average of nine years in poor health.

A woman will spend an average of nine years in poor health. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The gender pass over in health care is as alive as it is in other fields; women’s health needs are passed over, feminine conditions given rare attention in medicine or research. In a report published last month, consulting firm McKinsey, claimed the women’s health gap equates to 75 million years of life lost due to poor health or early death per year, the equivalent of seven days per woman per year. The report, ‘Closing the women’s health gap: A $1 trillion opportunity to improve lives and economies’ makes the case for addressing the 25 % more time that women spend in poor health. It would not only help improve the health and lives of millions of women, but could also boost the global economy by at least $1 trillion annually by 2040.

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Women spend more of their lives in poor health and with degrees of disability, the McKinsey report claims. A woman will spend an average of nine years in poor health, affecting her ability to be present and/or productive at home, in the workforce, and in the community and reduces her earning potential. Now, let’s set aside the economics and follow the pain trail. 

A key condition that affects women worldwide, with an estimated 190 million girls and women in reproductive age suffering globally, is endometriosis. According to the World Health Organisation, endometriosis is a disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus, causing inflammation and the formation of scar tissue in the pelvic region. It can cause severe pain in the pelvis and make it harder to get pregnant. It can start at a person’s first menstrual period and last until menopause. The cause of endometriosis is still unknown though the condition itself was first described medically in the 1600s. At the moment there is no known way to prevent endometriosis, no cure either, the best scenario is handling symptoms with medicines, or when warranted, surgery.

Also Read | Endometriosis: The long wait for a non-invasive test 

A recent qualitative study among 20 women with endometriosis confirmed laprascopically, conducted by The George Institute gave a sobering view of the way endometriosis impacts women and their partners. The research study was undertaken in Delhi and Assam among women above the age of 18 years. Patients complained that diagnostic delays and uncertainty about treatment compelled them to run around, shopping for anything to relieve their pain, and infertility. They reported difficulty in focusing on education and missed classes in school and college during menstruation, missing out on higher education in many instances. Among those who were employed there were women who claimed they were forced to curtail their ambition to grow, as a consequence of endometriosis alone. All women reported reducing participation in social activities due to the need to be near a lavatory, and fear of experiencing symptoms in public. Preety Rajbangshi of The George Institute explains that policy makers are only ever concerned with the maternal health of a child bearing woman. Seldom is attention paid to other health conditions that too have an impact on women, sometimes seriously.

Only over the last few years have we seen news about trials and efforts to understand endometriosis and find drugs to help patients. More recently, media reported the success of trials in Scotland, leading to a near-term possibility that women might see the first working drug. The Economist reported that the first endometriosis drug, in four decades, is on the horizon. It arose from a finding that many women with endometriosis had significantly higher levels of a chemical called lactate in their pelvis, than those without. The report noted that a small group of human patients who were part of the EPiC clinical trial at the University of Edinburg, Scotland, who were treated with dicholoroacetate reported lessened pain and better quality of life. A trial with a larger cohort, plus a placebo arm, is next. And possibly, more research to understand endometriosis in its entirety.

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