The first joint report examining the barriers to diagnostic testing for women has been released by Women in Global Health and The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND).
The report examines the barriers many women face around the world in accessing diagnostic testing, due to a mixture of inadequate testing infrastructure, healthcare literacy and also cultural barriers.
In particular, the report focuses on low-and middle-income countries, highlighting a lack of overall availability of diagnostic tests, with only 1% of primary healthcare facilities having access to essential diagnostics. For some countries such as Senegal, antenatal tests recommended in pregnancy were only given to 13% of women.
The report also examines the role gender bias plays in accurate diagnostic testing for women, referring specifically to TB which kills more women annually than all causes of maternal mortality. However, the report indicates that in certain cultural contexts TB is considered a ‘male disease’ and women are not actively targeted for screening. A study in Swaziland for example showed how a screening tool missed 85% of TB cases. More so, chronic conditions like heart disease have historically been diagnosed based on symptoms reported in men, potentially causing women to be misdiagnosed.
Another aspect of the report looks at the lack of investment in women’s health diagnostics, showing that there has been a global systematic underinvestment in all areas of research and development on women’s health. In Australia for example, only 1% of the county’s Medical Research Council’s annual budget has been allocated for endometriosis research, although the condition affects 10% of women of childbearing age, the report states. More so, the development of medicines and tests can be based on clinical trials with only male subjects, resulting in medicines and diagnostics that may not work as effectively for women.
A series of recommendations are made in the report including increasing investment in self-testing and for making testing locations and services more accessible to women. Importantly, the report states that women should be the ones driving this change in health and diagnostic systems.
“Information is power: Testing empowers women with critical health information that improves lives and increases prosperity for all,” says Roopa Dhatt, co-founder and executive director of Women in Global Health.
“Women in low- and middle-income countries face the greatest burden of infections and non-communicable diseases – and have the least access to diagnostic testing,” adds Catharina Boehme, CEO of FIND. “But it’s clear that testing can empower women, and empowering women can increase testing for all.”