Dr Erica Whineray Kelly, the Chief Medical Officer of Southern Cross Healthcare, the largest private hospital network across Aotearoa New Zealand has revealed women in Aotearoa New Zealand face particular barriers to equitable, cohesive, and accessible health care and health outcomes.

Whilst women have a longer life-expectancy, a gender health gap exists with women spending more of their life in poor health compared to men, termed the “health-survival paradox”. 

Historically, women’s healthcare has tended to focus on female-specific conditions, ignoring the fact women are most likely to die from cardio-and cerebrovascular disease, while Māori women are most likely to die from lung disease. 

Dr Whineray Kelly said increasingly scientists and physicians are recognising the presentation and treatment of up to 700 conditions can vary between males and females. This emerging trend is a consequence of the majority of modern medicine being based on research performed exclusively on cisgender men and male lab rats. 

“It has only been three decades since it was mandated that women were included in medical trials and research,” Dr Whineray Kelly said.

“Biologically, women are very different to men. They have a different hormone and inflammatory profiles, experience different side-effects and often don’t do as well as men when recommended a course of treatment. 

“Women are 50 per cent more likely to die from an acute cardiac syndrome, to suffer side-effects from medications and experience significant delays in diagnosis and treatment.

“This is in part due to the male bias of historic research, which often saw women excluded from studies.”

Dr Whineray Kelly said while research has improved, scientists and physicians must ensure enough women are included in trials, data related to biological sex is published and determine if the outcomes will be of benefit to both males and females.

“There needs to be a greater understanding of how to effectively treat men and women, because the presentation of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions can be vastly different depending on your gender,” Dr Whineray Kelly said.

“When suffering a heart attack, men typically present with crippling chest pain, while women may feel their bra was too tight that day.

“As doctors, we should not treat men and women the same. 

“We must consider other possibilities and ensure female patients are aware of their risk factors.”

Dr Whineray Kelly’s paper will be unveiled at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ Annual Scientific Congress in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand (6-10 May).

The Congress is the largest multi-disciplinary surgical meeting held in the southern hemisphere and brings together some of the top surgical and medical minds from across Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and the rest of the world.

For more information about the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ Annual Scientific Congress, please visit: https://asc.surgeons.org/


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