What is women’s health and why is it important?

At the Norwegian Research Center for Women’s Health, we appreciate the public focus on women’s health over the past few weeks here in Norway. I suspect that one of the reasons for this debate is that we have different perceptions of what women’s health really is.

Menstrual Disorders or Lifelong Health Care?

In the delivery room, as an obstetrician, I share incredible moments with a new family, but I also see women struggling with illness and concerns related to pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. This part of women’s health, reproductive health, is obviously close to my heart.

For me, as a gynecologist and physician, it is also natural to include complaints related to menopause, cervical cancer and endometriosis within the scope of women’s health. The fact that women react differently to certain medications than men, or that research into how women are treated by the healthcare system is part of women’s health, can be easier to forget.

I have a call to politicians and the administration for more research funds earmarked for women’s health…

Gender differences in health also affect women’s health. These are diseases and disorders that only affect women, affect more women than men, affect many women in particular, or have different consequences for women than for men.

Some examples of these inequalities are that women show different signs of heart attack than men and are at risk of not receiving the correct diagnosis, that rheumatic diseases affect more women than men, and lack of research-based knowledge , or that many older women suffer from osteoporosis that is not optimally treated.

What about women’s health outside Norway?

Health is often understood in terms of a society’s expectations and resources, and while perhaps it shouldn’t be, I think women’s health in Afghanistan has different issues than women’s health in Norway.

Globally, it’s a big problem that women die from pregnancy or childbirth, or don’t get the health care they need because of inequality or poverty. a lack of access to qualified health care.

In the research project in which I am involved, we are studying severe bleeding after childbirth. This is potentially fatal, but fortunately in Norway women rarely die from bleeding. Nevertheless, it is important to know more about these serious childbirth complications in order to ensure safe deliveries for Norwegian women, but also to contribute to a better understanding of a complication that can affect all women who give birth around the world.

Research on women’s health in Norway can therefore also be useful to countries that, for various reasons, cannot conduct themselves. Research articles are mostly published in a way that everyone can read them, and at congresses we can meet doctors and researchers from all over the world to share the results.

What about women’s health in Norway today, and what are the knowledge gaps?

As a woman in Norway in 2022, I actually think I’m quite well off. I am lucky to live in a society focused on equality between men and women, and with a public health system accessible to all.

Nevertheless, I know that some women’s diseases are less of a priority for both health personnel and research. The Norwegian Women’s Public Health Association has demonstrated that endometriosis is a disease with a knowledge deficit, which is not sufficiently prioritized by healthcare personnel. Another condition, often shameful with lack of attention, is chronic genital pain, and these examples are far from the only ones.

Just before the turn of the millennium, a report on women’s health in Norway came out (NOU 1999:13, regjeringen.no). The report concluded that there was a lack of knowledge, both about women’s specific diseases and about the links between health and living conditions. It also demonstrated that there was already significant knowledge about women’s health and living conditions that was not taken into account in health care policy decisions or in the health care system.

Lack of research on older girls and women

In Norway, it is now time for a new assessment of women’s health and a new report is to be written by the Women‘s Health Committee, a public committee on women’s health and health from a gender perspective.

I hope that the updated collection of knowledge will reach our decision makers and that the content will be taken into account in other ways, so that the work of the committee contributes to change and improvement of women’s health in Norway.

Regarding further research on women’s health, a report was recently published by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The report shows that there is a lack of research on girls as children and adolescents, as well as older women.

It also revealed that there is a lack of systematic reviews on certain conditions, for example vaginal wall prolapse. We also need more knowledge about how traditional treatments affect women in diseases such as COPD, skin cancer and lipoedema.

What are we looking for at the Norwegian Center for Women’s Health Research?

I am so proud of all my colleagues who champion women’s health in hospital and research!

In our shared office is obstetrician and senior researcher Katariina Laine. Among other things, she has researched and contributed to the reduction of perineal injuries after childbirth.

Also in the office is dermatologist Kristin Skullerud. Her research project is testing drugs for the painful vulvar disease, erosive genital lichen planus. Her supervisor and dermatologist Anne Lise Helgesen also created the vulva.no website, which is helping to increase knowledge about vulvar conditions, a hitherto neglected aspect of women’s health.

I hope you have learned a little more about women’s health and understand my passion for women’s health care and research.

I have a call to politicians and the administration for more research funds earmarked for women’s health. And the same politicians and healthcare institutions lack a demand for action to implement the treatment that the research shows.

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The ScienceNorway Researchers Zone consists of popular science opinions, blogs and articles written by researchers and scientists from or based in Norway.
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