Lack of Clinical Data and Academic Opportunities: The Two-Fold Gender Inequality of Tropical Diseases
Women face discrimination in various aspects of life, spanning the workplace, caregiving, beauty standards, representation in political spheres, and domestic violence. Healthcare, although less discussed, is also a significant domain of discrimination against women. In developed countries, women experiencing poverty, trans women, and migrant women are keenly aware of the pervasive discrimination and gatekeeping practices within healthcare settings, from reproductive services to access to basic treatments. In low- and middle-income countries, the situation is even more dire.
In fact, women are a high-risk population for many diseases. Tropical diseases, in particular, impose a significant burden of disability, sometimes resulting in death. For example, pregnant women are more vulnerable than other adults to certain tropical diseases, such as malaria, which can lead to severe anaemia and mortality. Factors such as age, sex, education, social, and economic conditions play a determining role in accessing medical healthcare. In countries where women lack access to education, their chances of gaining information about their health status or knowing what to do when they fall ill are greatly reduced. Women with very low incomes often do not seek paid medical care solutions. Women who are heads of households, when they fall ill, become an economic burden on their families, exposing themselves to greater precariousness. Clinical trials, in general, suffer from the underrepresentation of women. Many study protocols exclude pregnant women, limiting their treatment options and reinforcing their vulnerability.
How does the situation change when examining women in low- and middle-income countries working in science and healthcare?
Unfortunately, discrimination is also prevalent in these settings. There is a lack of visibility for women in the field and scientific research, especially in high positions. The severity of this disproportion has prompted many institutions to raise awareness of women in science, empower female scientists through mentorship programmes, and support early-career researchers.
The effects of these initiatives will be seen in the long run, yet it is important to continue empowering women and girls to work in science every day. Women play an essential role in healthcare, both within families and in society, and it is crucial that healthcare reforms ensure women's full participation and representation on all levels.
Lidwine Badjina, M.A., Deputy Work Package 6 Leader Bernhard-Nocht-Institut für Tropenmedizin (Germany)