By Ada Alvarez
CHICAGO — “We need to talk about women’s health,” declared Dr. Janine Clayton, deputy director from the Office of Research on Women’s Health, as part of the three-speaker panel discussing “Women’s health research agenda: The coming decade,” at the recent Health Journalism conference in Chicago sponsored by the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).
Each year, the AHCJ holds an annual conference bringing health and policy experts from around the country to discuss, before an audience of health care journalists, the latest issues impacting the health care industry.
Panelists Dr. Colleen Fitzgerald, Dr. Janine Clayton and Dr. Aida Giachello shared their research on women’s health at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference.
“Women became a topic in the nineties, and all we could hear about was pregnancy,” explained Dr. Clayton. “Women’s health was considered to be about our reproductive system, but it’s more. We are not an organ, we should be seen as a whole and we need to cover the biological needs and reactions by sex and gender,” said Dr. Clayton.
There was consensus among the panelists that there is a need to make distinctions between sex and gender and that both should be considered when covering and studying women’s health issues.
“Sex is based on the reproductive organs, but gender is the self-representation that’s created in response to social institutions,” said Dr. Clayton.
Dr. Colleen Fitzgerald, medical director of the Women’s Health Rehabilitation Program and a fellow panelist agreed with Dr. Clayton and explained the importance of gender roles in treatment. “We see many women neglecting treatment because they don’t know that they are having abnormal reactions in their pregnancy or after, and most of that comes by word of mouth and myths that surround our role while giving birth,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “There’s a need to talk about what they expect from us and what everybody thinks is normal versus what is scientifically accurate.”
Another popular panel topic was the issue of diversity. Judy Graham, the moderator and a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, explained that it was important to expand the coverage to specific topics such as differences among women and to take into consideration the impact on health practices from different cultures.
“Women’s health coverage is practically new but it’s specifically targeting pregnancies, heart disease and breast cancer — it’s what we hear about the most, but while we expand coverage we need to get from the general to the specific,” said Graham.
One area of specificity is the health of Hispanic women.
“Women represent 13 percent of the population, and 33 percent of Hispanics are women,” said Dr. Aida Giachello, director of Midwest Latino Health Research and the final panelist. “We have to understand the role of acculturation on women’s health. How it affects body functions and increases chances of depression and mental illnesses.
“It is a national problem that we need to address, 70 percent of immigrants don’t have health insurance and those women, the ones usually in charge of the whole family’s health, should not be ignored,” explained Dr. Giachello after showing several statistics on diseases that varied by different ethnicities.
Dr. Giachello further stated that it was important for the medical community to understand that the one-size-fits-all theory does not satisfy in meeting the health needs of Latinas.
She also addressed the unequal access to health care experienced by some in the Latino community.
“Seventy percent of Latina women are citizens in this country, and from 7-12 percent are undocumented, either way, health care shouldn’t be determined by (citizenship) status or gender,” said Dr. Giachello in closing.
Ada Alvarez is a bilingual freelance contributor specializing in investigative and multimedia reporting.
By Ada Alvarez