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New report highlights women’s health ‘crisis’ in Alberta as a result of COVID-19

Women in Alberta are experiencing serious health issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation (AWHF).

Conducted in May 2021 and released last week, “Finding the Fractures: The Pandemic, Women’s Health Disparities, and the Path to Equity” looks at how the pandemic has impacted several areas of women’s health.

Data was collected through 1,657 survey participants, 72 per cent of whom identified as women.

“We surveyed folks from all genders from across our province, with focal questions about how it has impacted women here in our province,” explained Tegan Gahler, vice-president of fund development and stakeholder engagement.

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Key findings show 63 per cent of women reported pandemic stress was negatively impacting their physical health, while eight per cent were diagnosed with a mental health disorder during the pandemic.

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“One of the most shocking statistics is 11 per cent of women experienced thoughts of harming themselves during the pandemic,” Gahler said.

“With that we encourage folks to seek support.”

Gahler said the organization cares for everyone’s health, but is emphasizing women’s health due to disproportionate research in the past.

“Historically speaking, health research was conducted on men, and women were viewed, as we say, ‘the small man,’” she explained.

“But we know women’s physiology is different. We are just different beings. And so we want to make sure there’s a focus on women’s health research and those dollars going to women’s health research specifically.”

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The report goes on to say Alberta women were left to deal with the repercussions of daycare and school closures throughout the pandemic, taking on the brunt of responsibilities at home.

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When it comes to health care, the risk of illness has increased as well.

According to the AWHF, it’s estimated more than 300 diagnoses of advanced stage breast cancer in Canada are a direct result of a three-month interruption in breast cancer screenings early in the pandemic.

Dr. Jane Schulz, the professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Alberta, has seen the impacts firsthand as staff were redirected to COVID-19 units.

“During certain heights of the pandemic, our clinic at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women was completely closed down and patients could not come in for appointments at all,” she said.

“We had to do everything by phone.”

The concern for Schulz is around women missing cancer screenings and other health appointments, either due to postponements or their reluctance to come into a clinic.

“Early diagnoses of cervical cancer and breast cancer are going to be missed, and people are then potentially going to present at a later stage of their disease or illness.”

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Danielle Kopp, the executive director with The Lethbridge Pregnancy Care Centre, said the pandemic has resulted in their clients experiencing heightened anxiety, loneliness and isolation.

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“We have done everything possible to continue to offer support to our clients in a safe and caring manner,” Kopp said. “We have certainly had to get creative, and sometimes the supports have had to move to phone or online appointments.

“One thing we have heard often from our clients is, ‘Thank you so much — you are one of the only places I can still get help.’”

Overall, Gahler said the goal of the AWHF’s report is to enlighten the public about the profound impacts of COVID-19 on women’s health, and continue raising funds to support more research efforts.

“Really just bring to light some of these issues for policy and changemakers in our province. You know, what can we do on the advocacy front to have better supports for women going forward?”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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