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Prioritizing Women's Health

In May, the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation (AWHF) surveyed 1,657 residents about their physical and mental wellbeing. Approximately ¾ (about 72%) of participants were women. The findings from this study showed that disparities in women’s health have worsened during the pandemic. The main cause for this was that women have been seeking professional treatment less frequently, which delayed diagnoses and treatments. Dr. Jane Schulz, the chair of the University of Alberta Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, noted that the fear of contracting COVID-19 can scare patients away from coming to the hospital or clinic to get treatment for their illnesses. The AWHF referenced research published in the Journal of Medical Screening that found that women were 10% and 13% more likely to postpone or cancel a doctor’s appointment than men.

Schulz also pointed out that one of the factors that prevented women from seeking healthcare was the additional burden of childcare, homeschooling their children, and having to look after their elderly parents. Unfortunately, this can lead to serious health issues such as advanced stages of cancer. 63% of female participants also told AWHF that they experienced pandemic stress which exacerbated their physical health problems. Dr. Stephanie Liu, a family physician, stated that many of her patients were experiencing mental health problems, the majority of whom did not have a history of depression or anxiety.

According to AWHF CEO Sharlene Rutherford, the numbers are representative of the health inequities that women have struggled with during the pandemic and signal a huge economic loss, as women make up approximately 46% of Alberta’s workforce. Roughly 40% of women reported that they have considered working fewer hours, 39% considered changing careers, and more than a quarter have contemplated quitting their jobs altogether. Rutherford said that “solutions in women's health will set the stage for a stronger economy”.

Additionally, while Rutherford supports Alberta’s decision to sign onto a federal child-care funding agreement, she also urges policymakers and leaders to address all of the service barriers issues affecting women and urges the public to continue learning about them as well.

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