Image description: Blue male and pink female cutouts in background. 3 picture circles overlaid depict women having tests with a doctor. The title reads: America: Women’s health - end the disparity in research funding. ME Association logo (bottom right)

America: Women’s health – end the disparity in research funding

Funding for research on women’s health is still a fraction of that available for men’s health. This year marks the 30th anniversary of a landmark US law. In 1993, it became compulsory to include women and under-represented groups in research and clinical trials funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Nature Editorial


Applied mathematician Arthur Mirin is among the few to have studied funding trends in women’s-health research in the United States. Mirin came out of retirement to do this after his daughter was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis. 

Mirin wanted to find out how much NIH funding was available in a field where women make up three-quarters of those affected. He discovered that ME/CFS attracted the least amount of NIH funding when matched against disease burden — measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), the cumulative number of years of healthy life lost because of illness, added to the years lost because of premature death. In 2019, for example, ME/CFS research received $15 million in NIH funding, for a disease that caused more than 700,000 DALYs in the United States.

Mirin later analysed NIH data for other diseases, including those that predominantly affect men such as liver or prostate cancer. In the majority of cases, diseases that predominantly affect women — such as migraines, headaches, anorexia and endometriosis — received funding that was a fraction of what was awarded for diseases that predominantly affected men, when funding amounts are matched to disease burden. This is unacceptable. Mirin rightly urged the NIH to do its own funding-versus-burden analysis, and to analyse correlations between funding and gender.

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