Rapid research into COVID-19 and women's health and wellbeing

A woman health worker in blue uniform walks down a busy hospital corridor Photo: iStock

 

New research will help clinicians and policymakers more rapidly and effectively help some of the most vulnerable members of the community in the response to COVID-19 and future pandemics.

The collaborative project COVID-19: Understanding the sex and gender dimensions on women’s health and wellbeing was among 13 selected for support from a UNSW Rapid Response Research program.

COVID-19 is just the latest of many diseases that has different impacts on men and women. This research is important because these differences haven’t always been studied or taken into account in patient care or in policymaking.

In the longer term, the research will contribute to policy reform to ensure sex and gender disaggregated research becomes the standard, which will advance more equitable and effective health outcomes. 

Australian Human Rights Institute Director, Scientia Professor Louise Chappell, said the sex and gendered impacts of COVID-19 had not been adequately addressed in policies and public health efforts. It was important to take lessons now for the future.

“If we do not separate women and men in our research of COVID-19 and look at how they are experiencing this pandemic differently, we risk getting the wrong picture of COVID-19, making bad policy, and repeating these errors if we face future outbreaks,” Professor Chappell said.

The project brings together expertise from The George Institute for Global Health, UNSW Medicine including the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and UNSW Arts and Social Sciences including the Gendered Violence Research Network. The project has three parts:

 

Analysing global COVID-19 statistics and national policies in a sex-disaggregated approach – in other words, studying men and women separately to account for their differences

Whilst confirmed cases of COVID-19 are distributed evenly between men and women, men account for about two-thirds of deaths. Biological and/or socio-cultural reasons may explain these differences. This has important implications for optimal clinical management and requires urgent investigation.

 

Mapping the responses of Australian frontline health and family violence services during COVID-19

There is evidence of increased Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) due to social isolation measures, causing vulnerable women to be confined at home in an abusive relationship. So far, there is limited insight into how health and allied services are adapting to the challenges of identifying these victims and assisting them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

A sex and gender-disaggregated survey of Australian health workers to understand how they have experienced stress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic

Working on the frontline of the pandemic takes a huge emotional and physical toll on health workers, who are exposed to grief, injury, stress, long hours and separation from family. Research is needed to build evidence-informed policies to support the wellbeing of health workers, specific to sex and gender.