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Early data provide evidence that sex and gender are important factors that intersect with each other and with other social determinants to influence susceptibility and vulnerability to COVID-19. Sex and gender, along with other key variables such as age, can influence disease progression, outcome and access to services, as well as social, psychological and economic impacts. Similar patterns have been observed in other global outbreaks (eg, HIV, Ebola, Zika) where a complex interplay of gender and other dimensions of vulnerability have resulted in disparate health outcomes. Through these epidemics, the world has witnessed the implications of neglecting gender dynamics;1 from heightened risk of infection, increased mortality and greater susceptibility to other health problems, social vulnerability and economic insecurity. These experiences, together with pressure from civil society, have over the years prompted the adoption of a number of political commitments to gender-sensitive public health responses, including the need to produce gender-sensitive evidence. While these commitments are welcome, whether they will be translated into action remains a matter of discretion and political will.
COVID-19 requires a gender-sensitive response
The emergence and spread of COVID-19 have reinvigorated the conversation on the importance of fulfilling commitments to gender-responsive approaches to public health, ensuring that gender is part of pandemic responses and leadership considerations. WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has affirmed that ‘tackling (the) pandemic requires a gender-responsive, equity-oriented and human rights-based approach’2 while underlining WHO’s commitment ‘to using a gender lens to continuously evaluate and improve our response efforts’.3
Despite experience from other global health crises and existing commitments, we have failed to gather and share adequate gender-sensitive evidence to guide COVID-19 responses. While data and research on COVID-19 are being produced at unprecedented speed, reporting of the data disaggregated by sex—let alone by sex and age—remains rare.4 Growing numbers of countries have …
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