Detroit’s WSU Opens Office of Women’s Health

Wayne State University in Detroit has launched its new Office of Women’s Health. The research facility is designed to improve the health of women through education outreach, research and development, the implementation of science, working to place more women in scientific research, and helping to develop policy.
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Dr. Sonia Hassan
Dr. Sonia Hassan, founder of WSU’s Office of Women’s Health, speaks at opening symposium. // Photo courtesy of Wayne State University

Wayne State University in Detroit has launched its new Office of Women’s Health. The research facility is designed to improve the health of women through education outreach, research and development, the implementation of science, working to place more women in scientific research, and helping to develop policy.

“Collaboration across the entire university and partnerships with community organizations will be keys to the office’s approach,” says Dr. Sonia Hassan, associate vice president and founder of the office and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

Its debut was marked with a symposium on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at the university’s McGregor Conference Center and brought together more than 130 researchers from across the university, community, and partnering organizations.

“We will employ a trans-disciplinary approach to women’s health throughout the university,” says Hassan. “The office also will collaborate with external stakeholders to play an overarching role toward transforming health care for women and their children, creating healthier families.”

The office is designed to improve the health of women to maximize the opportunity for families to thrive and achieve economic security, says Hassan.

Dr. Janine Clayton, associate director for research on women’s health at the National Institutes of Health and director of the National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health, delivered the address “Putting Women at Center Stage in Biomedical Research” at the symposium.

“We have the resources and a wonderful research culture at the university,” says M. Roy Wilson, president of WSU. “That, coupled with our concentration on health equity, means we can come together with a focused effort on women’s health.”

Panelists presented facts that highlighted the need for increased research into women’s health, including:

  • The mortality rate among American women ages 25-34 has increased by 26.3 percent since 2010.
  • The preterm birth rate of African American women in the U.S. is 49 percent higher than other women.
  • Heart disease is the leading killer of women, and more women die from heart disease and stroke than all cancers combined.
  • One in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer.
  • Neurocognitive diseases are 1 ½ to three times more prevalent among women.
  • From 2005 to 2014, opioid-related inpatient hospital stays increased 55 percent in men and 75 percent in women. In 2014, women had higher rates of opioid-related inpatient hospital stays in most states.
  • Women ages 50 to 65 with hypertension and hyperlipidemia were the leading cost segment in the health system of Americans with two diseases. Women ages 50 to 65 with hypertension, osteoarthritis, and high cholesterol were the leading combination of three conditions in terms of prevalence and cost.
  • Women are more likely than men to contract HIV, die from heart disease, suffer from malnutrition, and face severe complications from diabetes.
  • Health is worse among urban women. Nationally, 42 percent of the population lives with two or more chronic health conditions. Among those living in urban areas, the rate jumps to 61.5 percent.
  • About 80 percent of health and health economic decisions in households are made by women. These decisions affect all family members.

Compounding these issues, Hassan says, are social determinants of health such as poverty, neglect, malnutrition, pollution, racism, crime, and more, leading to increased stress levels that create and add to chronic health conditions. These stressors are likely higher among women in Michigan, where mothers are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners in 63 percent of families. The numbers are higher for women of color.

Hassan previously served as the lead faculty member at WSU in its relationship with the National Institutes of Health’s perinatology research branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for 13 years. She also led a study demonstrating that the use of progesterone in women with a shortened cervix decreases the rate of preterm birth before 33 weeks of gestation by 45 percent.

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