Women’s health is a broad topic that encompasses not only health and disease risk at the level of biological sex, but also includes the myriad cultural norms, expectations and associated challenges of gender. Examining the sex-specific determinants of health, women are more susceptible to many autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), to name a few. The relative female to male incidence between these diseases varies, with SLE occurring at a staggering 9 to 1 ratio between females and males. On the other hand, men are three times more likely to develop ankylosing spondylitis, another autoimmune disorder. The increased prevalence of autoimmunity in females, however, is a trend that is observed globally, and clearly suggests a strong association of biological sex with autoimmune disease susceptibility.
At the gender level, many issues remain in access to healthcare. Socioeconomic inequalities between men and women, particularly in areas with patriarchal systems, results in reduced access to education and employment, with negative effects on nutrition and immunity to communicable and non-communicable diseases. Standards for maternal health also vary widely across the world, with 99% of maternal deaths from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications occurring in developing countries.
As Canadians, we like to believe that we have attained gender equality. Certainly, access to healthcare is greatly improved and yet some unnecessary debates continue to arise. Abortion laws, enacted by the Trudeau Government in 1969, were only struck down as recently as 1988 by the Supreme Court of Canada, deemed as unconstitutional and removed from the criminal code. The fight for women’s rights and access to healthcare is not over.
In this issue, we examine sex-specific determinants of women’s health in The Matter of Sex and Immunity and discuss the impact and development of the HPV vaccine in Give ‘em Their Best Shot. We also explore advances in prenatal screening and discuss the results of a survey of students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty of the Departments of Immunology and Molecular Genetics on the challenges of starting a family during the various stages of a scientific career.
As always, we would like to thank Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker, the Department of Immunology and our sponsors for their continued support. Thank you also to the talented writers, illustrators, designers and photographers for their dedication and contributions to IMMpress Magazine.
As we approach our 7th issue, we would like to remind fellow students reading this publication that your input and help is invaluable to this continued effort. If you would like to get involved with the magazine, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Yuriy Baglaenko and Charles Tran