Does the U.S. spend more money researching diseases that primarily affect men? The answer is emphatically yes, according to an article published in the Journal of Women’s Health by Art Mirin, chair of #MEAction’s California State Chapter.
In his research, Dr. Mirin found that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gives a disproportionate share of its resources to diseases that primarily affect men, at the expense of those that affect primarily women. In nearly three-quarters of the cases where a disease afflicts primarily one sex, the funding pattern favors men – and at twice the funding rate!
Dr. Mirin analysed the allocation of funds across diseases, and normalized the funding level to disease burden (measured by the Disability Adjusted Life Year). His team categorized a disease as being over-funded if its actual funding exceeded the burden-commensurate value, and under-funded if its actual funding was less.
Of all of the diseases in the NIH portfolio, ME/CFS is the lowest funded disease relative to disease burden by the NIH, and 75 percent of those afflicted are women.
“Gender bias has been an ongoing issue in health care and has manifested itself in a number of different ways,” wrote Dr. Mirin. “Other examples include the underrepresentation of women in health studies, the trivialization of women’s complaints, and discrimination in the awarding of research grants.”
Jennifer Brea’s TED Talk calling for healthcare providers to believe women and not continue to dismiss them as hysterical struck a chord with Dr. Mirin after doing the research on gender disparity for himself.
Set Aside Funding, NIH!
Dr. Mirin said he has no reason to believe that NIH is intentionally short-changing women – rather that we are seeing the result of a structural gender bias, and the first step to change is acknowledging the problem.
“The most effective way for NIH to respond to funding disparities, be they based on gender or something else, is to remedy the situation by setting aside funding,” said Mirin. “As we have argued vis-à-vis ME/CFS, a similar approach will likely be needed to address gender disparity.”