A doctor consulting young patient at checkup visit for healthcare. [Getty Images]

Gender experts now say health policies must take gender into account to achieve better health outcomes.

Sylvia Muyingo a seasoned statistics specialist and a gender expert at African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) said since the outbreak of Covid-19, researchers have been analysing the degree to which policies address gender-related issues and intersectionalities.

She spoke at an event in Naivasha where findings on the interplay between gender and health outcomes were disseminated, the experts emphasised the importance of examining how policies address gendered health challenges.

“Intersectionality recognizes that people experience marginalization as a result of the intersection of different social categories such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability,” said Muyingo.

According to her, the concept of intersectionality takes into account these social categorisations, and acknowledges how these factors overlap, intersect and influence one another to create a unique dynamic.

A partnership of Global Health 50/50 (GH5050), APHRC, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), shows that early analysis of emerging data on COVID-19 showed issues on measurement as well as data and evidence for sex and gender programming at the global and national levels:

Muyingo said the limited availability of sex-disaggregated data on Covid-19 hampered the ability to comprehend and develop solutions to address any potential gender disparities.  

"During the pandemic, we observed that while women were more likely to be exposed to the virus, a higher number of men succumbed to Covid-19. This finding suggests that men may have been disadvantaged due to their poor health-seeking behaviors, which could be attributed to societal norms surrounding seeking medical care,” she said.

Muyingo added, “We have previously witnessed similar patterns in other diseases like HIV, hypertension, and diabetes, where men's reluctance to seek timely healthcare negatively impacts their outcomes.”

She said some of the barriers to gender responsiveness include budget allocation to facilitate research on developing gender-responsive policies and also, implementation of some of those policies among other hurdles.  

According to her, the influential role gender plays in determining health outcomes is impossible to disregard. Consequently, they emphasize the necessity of formulating gender-responsive policies and regulations governing health professionals at all levels of health governance.

"We must understand and unravel how other social determinants intersect with gender so that we can comprehend how to tailor our health system's response to attain better health outcomes for all genders,” said Muyingo.

While advocating for the incorporation of gender considerations into the very processes of developing health policies, ensuring that these policies are gender-responsive and address the unique needs of different genders, Muyingo’s sentiments were echoed by Dr Mahlet Hailemariam, a gender expert from Ethiopia who said analysing health policies through a gender lens is crucial for promoting equity.

"We must comprehend and unpack how various social determinants intersect with gender to truly understand how our health system's response and policies can be tailored to achieve better health outcomes for all genders,” said Dr Hailemariam.

Hailemariam said the studies conducted by the experts revealed as individuals age, their risk of developing hypertension increases with heightened risk persisting at higher levels among women compared to men in the age range of 60 to 70 years old.

The findings of the research indicate that the overall prevalence of hypertension among men is 27.30 per cent, while among women it is 26.96 per cent.

As a result, the experts said there is a pressing need to formulate gender-responsive policies and health professional regulations across all levels of health governance.

This they said is crucial in ensuring gender parity and achieving universal health coverage grounded in the principles of equity.

They argue that promoting gender equality and health equity is vital for improving the overall health of all individuals.

Dr Hailemariam said gender concerns disproportionately affect women and girls due to socially ascribed roles, household responsibilities, social status, and cultural norms that influence their subordination, and mobility, and determine risks of infection or potential threats such as violence.

“We are looking at men and how they are disadvantaged through the system because of both toxic cultural experiences around fending for their families and how that impacts their health-seeking behavior,” she said.