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  • National centre to tackle gender inequity in medicine

    Author: AAP

Challenging Australia's predominantly "male-centric approach to medical care" will be top of the agenda for a new national research centre that pledges to tackle gender inequity in medicine.

From dismissing women's pain to understanding the impact of gender bias in medical research, the initiative hopes to deliver better health outcomes for all.

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The Centre for Sex and Gender Equity in Health in Medicine, unveiled at UNSW in Sydney on Wednesday, will address "the underlying, binary sex and gender bias in health and medicine".

Researchers said pervasive bias led to poorer health outcomes, evidence gaps and inefficient health spending for women and girls, intersex people, trans and gender-diverse people.

Founding director and Professor of Public Health at UNSW Robyn Norton said more than 70 per cent of participants in early-stage clinical trials were white men, with male cells and male animals used as standard in the laboratory.

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"When these results are generalised to women, intersex, trans and gender-diverse people, we see long delays in diagnosis and intervention, inappropriate treatment or dosing, different responses to medicines and devices, and dismissal of pain or other symptoms," she said.

"This historical focus almost exclusively on the male means other populations have been understudied.

"Viewing trial protocols and analysis through a sex- and gender-sensitive lens can improve outcomes across the board."

Executive Dean for the Faculty of Health at Deakin University Professor Rachel Huxley said women's health research and services often focused only on sexual, reproductive and maternal health.

"Heart disease, for example, is a leading cause of illness and death for both Australian women and men, yet it continues to be primarily known as a 'man's disease'," she said.

"As a result, women's symptoms are often not picked up, attributed to other, often psychological causes, and treatment is delayed or not given at all, with serious consequences including death."

The centre will also address what it describes as a "paucity of health data" for intersex and gender-diverse people, and for men and boys where a condition most commonly occurs in women.

Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney welcomed the centre as part of Australia's more inclusive health and medical research industry.

"For too long, women and LGBTIQA+ Australians have been under-represented in health and medical research and have all too often had their experiences ignored," she said.

The centre is an initiative of The George Institute for Global Health, the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney, and Deakin University, with support from the Victorian Department of Health and the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes.

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