Budget 2021 initiatives expected to strengthen long-ignored areas of women's health research

Guest Contributor
May 12, 2021

The federal budget released in April allocated a total of $72.6 million to women’s health initiatives, which healthcare experts say could boost research into areas of women’s health that have been neglected for decades.

The newly funded research initiatives included $20 million for a new National Institute for Women’s Health Research and $7.6 million for a national survey on sexual and reproductive health.

Budget 2021 also committed $172 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, with $36.3 million ongoing, to Statistics Canada to fund a Disaggregated Data Action Plan that will fill data and knowledge gaps. The data plan will help address systemic racism and gender gaps, including power gaps between men and women, the federal government said.

While women make up 51 percent of the population, women’s health issues are often ignored even in basic research. As a recent article in Fortune magazine notes, even fundamental research on rodents often excluded female subjects because “many [scientists] believed that a female mouse’s estrous cycles (in other words, mice periods) would lead to complications for data analysis.”

“There have been significant and well-documented disparities in women’s health and research for decades,” which are magnified in marginalized groups and in remote areas, said Dr. Lori A. Brotto, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with Research Money.

Better data analysis, largely helped with the increase in digital health tools, is a crucial need which will benefit all Canadians, said Brotto, the Canada Research Chair in Women’s Sexual Health at the University of British Columbia and executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute in British Columbia.

Brotto said the women’s health initiatives in Budget 2021 will be a means of “catapulting forward our knowledge about women’s health research in Canada, and then applying knowledge translation and implementation science to ensure that those innovations are shared, as well as translated, into policy and programs to meet the needs of the Canadian population.”

Initiatives include a new National Institute for Women’s Health Research

Budget 2021 earmarked $72.6 for women’s health in three categories:

  • $45 million to fund community-based organizations that makes sexual and reproductive health care information and services available.
  • $7.6 million to develop and implement a national survey on sexual and reproductive health that captures data on race, household income and sexual orientation often not captured in existing surveys.
  • $20 million to support a new National Institute for Women’s Health Research.

Brotto pointed out that the Women’s Health Research Institute in B.C., where she conducts her research, is not a national institute. Alberta and Ontario also have similar institutes, and the three organizations have been collaborating for the past two years toward establishing a national centre.

However, the Budget 2021 items are broadly described, and the details still need to be determined, Brotto added.

Alixandra Bacon, a registered midwife and president of the Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM), said her organization hoped to see some funds channelled into:

  • Renewed and expanded investment in Indigenous midwifery.
  • Rehousing Laurentian University’s school of midwifery, which was closed as part of the financially insolvent university’s restructuring, at a Northern institution which can support its bilingual and tri-cultural mandate.
  • Federal student loan forgiveness for midwives.
  • Partnering with CAM to invest in strengthening midwifery association programs.

While pleased with Budget 2021’s overall investment in women’s health initiatives, CAM was disappointed to see “there was no investment in universal access to contraception,” Bacon said.

Solveig Voelker, a long-time registered nurse in New Brunswick, said she was pleased to learn of the much-needed “interdisciplinary approach to women’s medicine.”

However, she also stressed that basic front-line services are inadequate. Women without a family doctor have poor access to prenatal care, Volker said, adding that she personally has waited for a pap smear — a simple cervical procedure — for two months.

Voelker said her experience has also shown that not all women have access to computers and that healthcare phone lines are often busy.

According to Budget 2021, the new National Institute for Women’s Health will advance a coordinated research program that addresses under-researched and high-priority areas of women’s health and ensure new evidence improves women’s care and health outcomes.


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