Summer 2021

Page 178

> Women's Brain Project:

It’s Time to Invest in Brain Health, and Recognise Gender Differences By Maria Teresa Ferretti, Sofia Foster, and Shahnaz Radjy

Humans are incredibly creative, especially when it comes to ways of generating economic opportunities. How else can trading weather options be explained?


IMPACT OF INACTION There are ethical and economic reasons why we need to tackle the gap by investing more in sexand gender-related research and measures. A recent report by Women’s Health Access Matters (WHAM) has just provided fresh numbers.

his drive to capitalise on innovative ways to generate returns can be used as a force for good, as with carbon funds created as an incentive for companies to contribute to the mitigation of climate change.

With Covid-19 putting a new focus on the importance and consequences of mental health, the Women’s Brain Project (WBP) is on a mission. With a vision for a future powered by precision medicine, WBP is contributing to a pioneering of “brain capital”.

Take Alzheimer’s as an example; it is a disease that overwhelmingly affects women. The report shows that: • doubling the funds for women’s Alzheimer’s research pays for itself threefold • a 224 percent return on investment adds 15 percent more to the economy than general Alzheimer’s research • adding $300m for research on women generates $930m in economic gains, “adds back” 4,000 life years, eliminates 6,500 cases of Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and would save 3,500 years of nursing home care and costs.

CONTEXT MATTERS The pandemic has created general distress, with the drawn-out lockdowns and quarantines leading to a rise in mental health concerns. Good mental health is linked to good physical health, both of which support positive social and economic outcomes. Mental health disorders account for almost a quarter of the ill-health burden, with 264 million people of all ages suffering from depression. The financial impact is significant, too. Poor mental health is associated with living in poverty, low-quality work, unemployment, and loss of housing. There is a well-documented surge in mental health disorders following disasters. It is no surprise that Covid-19 and the response to it are having a significant impact. The emergency, and the restrictions, have caused a loss of coping mechanisms, and reduced access to treatment. This ranges from a lack of social contact for dementia patients to parents having to take care of young children without any support, hold down a job, and manage older children’s online school activities. The pandemic has highlighted the fact that patients respond differently to the virus and stressors, and the need for precision medicine. One key aspect that has emerged as a driver of variability is sex and gender. The fatality rate has been twice as high for men, but women have been at the epicentre of the mental health crisis. Women are at a higher baseline risk for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. As healthcare providers, they are more exposed to the pandemic-related challenges. And 178

The economic benefits of increasing funding for other female-focused brain and mental health research are unequivocal. Tackling the Brain Health Gap goes beyond a women-centric discussion, and is now debated on global platforms such as the OECD, in partnership with non-profit organisations such as WBP. Co-founder and CEO of WBP: Antonella Santuccione Chadha

importantly, more women than men have lost jobs during the crisis. BRAIN HEALTH GAP This relates to something called the Brain Health Gap. According to a study from the World Health Organisation, there are differences in the way women and men seek and use mental health services. Women are often dismissed as emotional or “hormonal”. There are also gender differences in the treatment provided; women are more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medication. There is a clear sex and gender gap in outcomes for brain health disorders, with negative outcomes for women. Understanding these differences calls for a more systematic way of approaching this issue of inequality, across each stage of research. The Brain Health Gap frames inequalities in every part of our economic and societal system. | Capital Finance International

A BROADER AUDIENCE This year, the OECD’s New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) was launched in collaboration with the PRODEO Institute, a new initiative looking at “brain capital” —brain skills and health as indispensable parts of the knowledge economy. WBP is piloting an initiative in the context of NAEC, to develop the concept of brain capital and connect it with different policy and investment communities. “Our brains are indispensable drivers of human progress, so we need to invest more heavily in them,” notes Harris Eyre, co-lead of the Neuroscience-Inspired Policy Initiative. “Our initiative seeks to place brain capital at the centre of a new narrative to fuel economic and societal recovery and resilience.” For this initiative hosted in NAEC to go forward, sex and gender considerations are an important piece in the puzzle. Brain and mental health disorders cause considerable pain and suffering for the

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