LONDON (AP) – As coronavirus vaccines pour into some of the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, data suggests some women are systematically absent, in another illustration of how the doses are unevenly distributed around the world.
Experts fear women in Africa could be the least immunized population in the world, thanks in large part to widespread misinformation and vaccine skepticism across the continent. But vaccine access issues and gender inequalities extend far beyond Africa, with women in impoverished communities around the world facing barriers including cultural biases, lack of technology and checklists. prioritization of vaccines that do not include them. And while global data by gender in vaccine distribution is lacking in many places, officials agree that women are clearly being left behind by men in some places, and that the problem must be addressed for the world to move beyond pandemic.
“If women don’t get vaccinated at the same rate as men, they will become even more marginalized,” said Clare Wenham, associate professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics. “It will be just one more case where they are excluded from society.”
Women’s early access to vaccines was often determined by how countries distributed their first doses. Sarah Hawkes, who heads a global gender-based coronavirus information tracker at University College London, noted that Pakistan and other countries were prioritizing groups such as the military and migrant workers, likely contributing the persistence of gender gaps.
In deeply conservative and impoverished regions of India and Timor-Leste, women have received only about 35% of vaccines, according to early figures collected by governments and non-government groups.
In Lebanon, as in much of the Middle East, women were initially protected from COVID-19 because they were more likely to follow social distancing guidelines, said Dr Sasha Fahme, a women’s health researcher at the American University of Beirut.
“But as the modes of transmission have changed over time, we have found that, because women are disproportionately burdened with household chores and caring for sick parents, their viral exposure has increased dramatically,” Fahme said. She also noted that women were less likely to have reliable information about vaccines due to lower literacy levels.
Naima Sadaka, a 36-year-old mother of three in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, said she was not considering getting the vaccine because she believed there were scientific disputes over the vaccines . Numerous studies have proven that all COVID-19 shots authorized by the United States and Europe dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.
“I have heard many doctors say that the vaccine is not safe in the long term,” Sadaka said. “Since there is disagreement among the people of science about this, then, better without it.”
In Bangladesh, the initial use of technology for immunization may have disadvantaged women at an early stage. Data released by the government in mid-September shows that while 8 million men received their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, only 6 million women received it. Figures from the previous month showed women received around 38% of coronavirus vaccines.
Ramesh Singh, Bangladeshi director of the charity CARE, said he was initially baffled by the gender gap. But after working on COVID-19 measures at some of the country’s garment factories, Singh noticed that most of the workers were women.
“The clothing industry has been open all this time throughout the pandemic,” he said. “It would appear to put women at a higher risk because they are exposed, but they weren’t sufficiently protected. “
Singh also said that when Bangladesh started its immunization efforts, registration was mostly done through a mobile app, excluding many women who do not have cell phones. Although registration has now been extended beyond application, some women in rural areas still face bureaucratic hurdles.
Aktara Begum, 22, from a district in northern Bangladesh, has lived in Dhaka with her husband since her marriage, but does not have the documents to register for the vaccination.
“To get my papers back, we have to go to my village,” she said. “But my husband is unemployed, we cannot go home now. I don’t know if I can get my papers and get vaccinated.
Officials predict that closing the gender gap in poor countries may depend on a key group: women health workers, who make up 70% of the global health workforce. Previous surveys have shown that women tend to be more skeptical of vaccines than men around the world, with health workers being no exception.
Chioma Nwakanma, a reproductive and sexual health doctor who works in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, said she was frustrated to hear nurses downplaying the importance of vaccines.
“There is a premium to having children here, so if there is any doubt about the effect of the vaccine on fertility, women just think it is not worth taking even a small risk,” Nwakanma said. “And if female health workers don’t trust the vaccine, then why would women take it? “
Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Al-emrun Garjon in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.