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Vol. LXVII, No. 8
April 10, 2015

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Clayton at UN: ‘Good Health Is Wealth for the World’

NIH’s Dr. Janine Clayton (l) with Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, executive director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust at the United Nations

NIH’s Dr. Janine Clayton (l) with Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, executive director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust at the United Nations

Photo: Anne Rancourt

“Good health of women and men, and of girls and boys, is wealth for the world,” said Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, NIH associate director for research on women’s health, at the United Nations recently.

As keynote speaker at the inaugural World Women’s Health and Development Forum, Clayton joined international health care leaders, UN representatives, scientists and activists to discuss how best to advance the health, wealth and empowerment of women worldwide. The UN department of economic and social affairs and the Royal Academy of Science International Trust organized the forum.

Citing the landmark Women’s Health Initiative, which fundamentally changed how clinical care is delivered for women, Clayton argued that such research makes economic sense. According to a 2014 analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the WHI’s clinical trial yielded a 140-fold return on its initial research investment over the past decade. That analysis also calculated that the WHI effort spared 75,000 women from heart disease and prevented 126,000 women from getting breast cancer.

Scientific research offers our best chance for improving the health and lives of women around the world, Clayton asserted, adding that more work needs to be done to understand the roles of sex and gender in health.

“Unfortunately, in 2015, we still know little about female biology and the influence of sex as a biological variable,” she said. To date, animal studies have focused primarily on males; investigators studying cells in the laboratory have often not paid attention to the sex of the individual from which the cells were obtained.

This knowledge gap contributes to less effective care for women, Clayton added, noting that when a woman’s health improves, the health of her family and community also advances. Empowering women and girls was one of the UN’s eight Millennial Development Goals, a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all of the world’s leading development institutions. Currently, the UN is seeking input on the next generation of development goals. That was one reason for hosting this year’s forum.

Clayton updated forum attendees about a policy shift in which NIH will ensure that preclinical researchers consider sex at the outset of their experiments. She recognized ongoing efforts in this arena, noting the World Health Organization’s Strategy for Integrating Gender Analysis and Actions, which calls for mainstreaming a gender perspective at all levels, from research to legislation to policies and programs.

Collaboration across boundaries is critical for building this important foundation of knowledge “that provides hope for the day in which each global citizen— every male and female child, and every male and female adult—gets precisely the care they need for a healthy and productive life,” she said.

For more information on NIH efforts to take sex into account in preclinical research, visit—Alison Davis and Anne Rancourt

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