Previous research has shown that women are underrepresented in certain trials, including studies related to cancer and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Today, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times highlights the lack of women in AIDS clinical trials, despite that they account for 25 percent of Americans living with the disease, and researchers’ efforts to reverse this trend.
The editorial board writes:
Why the imbalance? Researchers say it’s due to a combination of factors. The majority of HIV-positive women in the country — more than 60% — are black; 17% are Latina. That means they’re often poorer, with less access to medical treatment at universities doing research, and are therefore less likely to be found when researchers are recruiting. It takes more effort to reach out to public clinics and community case workers to find women of color with HIV or AIDS; that effort can slow the start of a study. There also is a lingering mistrust of medical researchers in the black community, experts say, partly the legacy of exploitative experimentation on minorities. As a result, women and people of color have traditionally been underrepresented in clinical trials on numerous diseases and conditions.
Does it matter if women are included in HIV studies? Yes, because women metabolize or tolerate some drugs differently than men. Side effects, too, can vary depending on gender.
Some researchers are making a greater effort to seek out women and explain their studies carefully. The AIDS Clinical Trials Group has set a floor of 10% participation by women in studies, and it tries for 20%. In addition, it used grant money to hire community health “promoters” at 10 research sites across the country whose job is to make people in minority communities aware of research projects.