The intersectionality of women’s roles in health leadership is profound and complex. While women constitute 70% of the healthcare workforce, they are notably underrepresented in its leadership, holding only about 30% of high-level positions. The gap widens further within the upper echelons of global health institutions. This discrepancy is not merely a matter of equity; it substantially hinders the efficacy of global health systems.
The empowerment and elevation of women’s leadership in health transcends the goal of correcting social inequities; it is also fundamental to fostering the ingenuity required for medical advances, like the development of an HIV vaccine.
While recent studies have achieved targets for women’s participation in vaccine research, significant challenges remain. Social and cultural barriers still significantly influence women’s choices to join these studies. To ethically develop and deliver vaccines, we must confront these issues to achieve fair participation.
Historically, women have been underrepresented in clinical trials, which has serious implications. Given that women are biologically more susceptible to HIV infection, it is imperative that research not only includes but emphasizes their participation. This ensures that findings are relevant and beneficial to women, taking into account their unique physiological responses to treatment and prevention methods.
Addressing the vulnerability of women to HIV requires a multifaceted approach that considers social, economic, and legal factors. These considerations are not just academic; they have real-world implications for the recruitment and participation of women in clinical research studies. Researchers must navigate these complexities with sensitivity and care to ensure that no community is left behind.
The indignation that girls and women continue to bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic is palpable and justified. The stigma and discrimination faced by women living with HIV in various aspects of their lives are unacceptable. It is a stark reminder that our work is not done.
Yet, there is hope. The push to eliminate new HIV infections among children is spearheaded by women. More women are receiving antiretroviral therapy compared to men, with positive ripple effects on families and communities. Educating young women has proven to have a profound impact on health outcomes, and is associated with greater gains in reducing new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women, fewer unintended pregnancies, and increased participation in the workforce.
In the quest to empower women’s leadership in health, creating safe, inclusive work spaces is non-negotiable. Safe spaces encourage the free exchange of ideas, foster innovation, and nurture the confidence of women to lead boldly. Inclusivity means not just the presence of women at the table but the respect and weight given to their voices. It is in these nurturing environments that the groundwork for HIV vaccine research thrives, benefitting from the full spectrum of women’s expertise and insight.
The path to defeating HIV/AIDS is inseparable from the path toward gender equity. Our progress on one front will propel us forward on the other.
About the authors: Dr. Norah Obudho is the Health Integration & East Africa Director at WomenLift Health, Dr. Vincent Muturi-Kioi is a Senior Medical Director at IAVI, a nonprofit scientific research organization whose mission is to translate scientific discoveries into affordable, globally accessible public health solutions.
This article was first published on standardmedia.co.ke.