Coronavirus testing may not reach women in conflict zones: IRC

Testing is limited in many low-income countries, and more so in conflict zones, where the biggest gender gaps are seen.

Distribution of relief funds under the Ehsaas program in Pakistan
Globally, experts have warned that women may suffer the brunt of the virus' impact because they are less likely to have healthcare, more likely to take on unpaid work and more likely to lose their jobs [File: Shakeel Ahmed/Anadolu]

Big gaps between the number of male and female coronavirus cases in parts of Africa and the Middle East suggest that women may be struggling to access testing or care, an aid agency said on Wednesday.

In Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, more than 70 percent of reported cases were male, compared with a global average of 51 percent, and the same was true in the Central African Republic, Chad and Somalia, said the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

“What we are seeing is a situation in which women are potentially being left out of testing and their health deprioritised,” Stacey Mearns, senior technical adviser of emergency health at the IRC, said in a press release.

“This could have serious ramifications for their physical wellbeing.”

Mearns said that while both men and women in conflict-ridden nations experience difficulty in accessing healthcare, the data revealed that women had a “slimmer chance of seeing a doctor than men” in countries like Pakistan.

In India, the world’s second-most populous nation with over 1.3 billion people, 76 percent of all confirmed cases were men, the nation’s health ministry revealed in early April. 

Studies in China, Europe and the United States have shown that men are more likely than women to be hospitalised and die of coronavirus.

But they have not shown the gender gap in confirmed cases that set off warning signals for the IRC. In most of Europe, the numbers of cases are roughly equal between men and women.

“The numbers do not add up,” said Mearns.

Testing is extremely limited in most low-income countries, and even more so in conflict zones, which is where the biggest gender gaps occurred, said the IRC.

Women watch as a nurse attends to their relative who is being treated at an intensive care unit of a hospital for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sanaa
Women in conflict-hit areas like Yemen often had a hard time accessing health services due to gender inequality and discrimination, the IRC said [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

Globally, experts have warned that women may suffer the brunt of the virus’s impact because they are less likely to receive healthcare, more likely to take on unpaid work and more likely to lose their jobs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to report the sex and age breakdown of confirmed COVID-19 cases so it can analyse who is affected most.

Fewer than half of globally confirmed cases had been reported with sex and age data, so any interpretation of gender differences should be made with caution, said the WHO in May.

As of June 24, there are more than 9.26 million coronavirus cases worldwide, with more than 4.6 million recoveries and some 477,800 deaths reported, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies