Women's health has become a federal priority backed by more than $2 billion in program spending on research, health care service delivery, and educational initiatives, according to Susan Blumenthal, M.D., deputy assistant secretary for health and women's health and an assistant surgeon general in the Public Health Service (PHS).
To ensure a comprehensive women's health agenda, every PHS agency now has women's health coordinators, and women and minorities must be included in all clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said Blumenthal at the American Psychological Association Conference on Women's Health last month in Washington, D.C. The conference was cosponsored by APA, PHS agencies, and other organizations.
Blumenthal outlined several PHS interagency initiatives sponsored by her office with implications for women's mental health.
Blumenthal commented that her position was created in 1994 by President Clinton to address inequities in women's health care. For example, biomedical research was conducted on men and the findings were extrapolated to guide treatment and interventions for women. "This neglect has resulted in glaring health care problems for women," said Blumenthal.
AIDS, often presumed to be a "man's disease," is now the number one cause of death in women of reproductive age in several of the nation's major cities, noted Blumenthal.
Mental illness affects women disproportionately, yet only one-quarter are diagnosed appropriately, and only one-quarter of those women are adequately treated, commented Blumenthal.
More than three billion assaults on women occur annually in the United States, one-third by someone the woman knows. Yet, only 3 percent of domestic violence cases are detected by physicians, noted Blumenthal.
Behavioral and psychosocial factors are a major factor in causing diseases affecting women including heart, cancer, and lung disorders and diabetes, yet they too have been neglected, said Blumenthal.
"More than any miracle drug or vaccine discovery, strategies to change high-risk behaviors such as smoking, substance abuse, poor diet, and lack of exercise could reduce premature mortality in our nation by one-half, chronic disability by two-thirds, and acute disability by one-third. Health care costs would also be reduced."
Blumenthal introduced PHS panelists who described their agency's efforts to improve women's health. For example:
(Psychiatric News, October 18, 1996)