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While men are dying from the virus, researchers worry about research gender gap. Photo supplied

Study: Two-thirds of research into Covid-19 is done by men

Scientific research into SARS-CoV-2 is done by mostly men. According to a new paper published a medical journal, women account for just one-third of all authors who published papers related to Covid-19 since the start of the outbreak in January 2020.

Published: June 17, 2020, 8:38 am

    Even fewer senior authors are women, said the authors of the research published in BMJ Global Health, worried about “gender inequality”. Covid-19 however has not discriminated: there is a huge gender gap in mortality rates.

    Men face a much higher risk of death than women, across the US and indeed across the globe. In England and Wales, for example, male social care workers are dying at a rate of 23,4 deaths per 100 000, compared to a rate of 9,6 for women.

    Despite a growing number of women enrolling in universities worldwide, a minority of women graduates is interested in research. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) indicated that only 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women.

    Further analysis into PubMed, a research database, revealed the figures were even lower when considering first or last authorship: 29 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

    The authors suggested that the gender imbalance was due to a research agenda shaped by those in leadership positions – taken up by mostly men. Africa had the lowest number of women researchers, while Oceania had the highest.

    The authors maintained that promoting disclosure of gender as part of the submission process for scientific journals as well as gender quotas should be included because “raising awareness on gender inequalities in research in general, and in authorship of papers in particular, has not led to substantial improvements”.

    Instead of wondering why men die of Covid-19 at such disturbingly high rates, the authors believe “[T]here is a pressing need to reduce these gender inequalities” to “improve our understanding of the clinical and epidemiological dimensions of Covid-19”.

    If an effort is made to challenge the disproportionate number of women researchers contributing to the work on Covid-19, succeeding in the global fight against the pandemic may be achieved more quickly, they claimed.

    But their concerns are way off the mark. An anti-male agenda would hardly contribute to understanding why men die at such a high rate. “In every country with sex-disaggregated data … there is between a 10 percent and 90 percent higher rate of mortality amongst people diagnosed with COVID if they are men compared to if they are women,” Sarah Hawkes, professor of global public health at University College London told CNN on March 24.

    Hawkes’ analyses show that in almost every country reporting mortality data, the risks are higher for men who contract the virus. And Prof Hawkes told The Guardian on April 16: “The honest answer is none of us know what’s causing the difference.” The Covid-19 gap is nevertheless so stark that it justifies further investigation. That has not happened yet.

    The Netherlands has been at the top of the list for countries where men are dying at an alarming rate. In the US, men account for 58 percent of the reported deaths, according to data from CDC updated in May. In England and Wales and France this figure is 60 percent and in Malaysia 78 percent, according to Hawkes.

    Across all age ranges, the gender gap is huge and particularly wide for those in middle age. For those aged 45 and 54, there are five men dying for every two women. And although slightly more women over the age of 85 have died from the virus, it is simply because women make up almost twice more of this age group.

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