The COVID-19 Pandemic Disproportionately Affects Women in the Americas – PAHO/WHO

The PAHO report shows that gender inequalities in health have increased in the region; calls for disaggregated data to design a more inclusive response.

Washington, DC, March 8, 2022 (PAHO) — The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women in the Americas, contributing to increased gender inequality in health and threatening development and well-being of women, according to a new report from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says.

The report Gender and Health Analysis: COVID-19 in the Americas, launched today in a webinar to mark International Women’s Day, explores the effects of the pandemic on women and girls and presents findings in areas such as health, employment and social protection . The event included the participation of Karen Sass, Director of Persons with Disabilities of the National Secretariat of Care and Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry of Social Development of Uruguay and HE Hugh Adsett, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the Organization of US States (OAS).

“This report underscores that gender inequality is an ongoing social, economic, political and health crisis, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “But it also highlights areas where we need to work harder to create a more equitable, resilient and sustainable future,” she said.

During the pandemic, the caregiving role has put women at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Making up the vast majority of healthcare workers, women were on the front lines caring for patients and accounted for 72% of all COVID-19 cases among healthcare workers in the region. “If they had been better protected from the start and with reasonable delays, many infections could have been avoided,” said Dr Etienne.

The physical and emotional costs of long hospital shifts and concern over exposure to COVID-19 followed many healthcare workers home, where they were often also responsible for 80% of the duties. The study references several researches that have shown that women working in healthcare are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, insomnia or burnout than their male counterparts.

During lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus, women also spent more time at home, a place that was unsafe for many. Calls to domestic violence hotlines increased by 40% in some countries during these periods. In others, they dropped dramatically, indicating that women may have faced new barriers to seeking help.

COVID-19 has also had a marked impact on women’s health. The report points out that although data shows women are overall less likely to develop serious illness from COVID-19 than men, they were also more likely to be diagnosed later. And once diagnosed, they died earlier, suggesting that many did not receive adequate and timely care.

Meanwhile, the reorientation of health services to deal with the COVID-19 emergency has left too many women and girls without the support they need to stay healthy. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 1 in 4 adolescents did not have access to family planning services, which exposed them to unwanted pregnancies, health risks and dropping out of school, among other things.

The pandemic has also worsened maternal mortality. Pregnant women have had to balance fear of COVID-19 with uncertainty about whether they can safely give birth in a health facility, and too many have not received the care they need. needed in time. Over the past two years, more than 365,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among pregnant women in the region, and more than 3,000 of them have died.

“We must address these deep inequalities to address the current health crisis and build a better future for women and girls in the region,” Dr Etienne stressed.

The report also warns that the integration of a gender approach in the response to the pandemic has been insufficient. Gender does not feature in analyzes of the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic, making it difficult to recognize and understand the different consequences that COVID-19 has had on men and women.

“The pandemic demands a radical transformation in the generation, analysis and use of disaggregated data to identify health inequalities,” said PAHO Deputy Director Jarbas Barbosa. “Without quantitative and qualitative data and evidence, our efforts on gender equity and other aspects of health are significantly compromised,” he added.

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