Will Extending the Women's Health Initiative Lead to Better Research and Policy?

“Will Extending the Women’s Health Initiative Lead to Better Research and Policy?” by Chloe Bird, Women’s Health Issues.

In a time of scarce research dollars, securing support to sustain even highly successful research studies on women’s health is difficult, if not impossible. Yet, improving women’s health and health care requires data and answers to inform decisions by women, their clinicians, and policy makers. Although support for women’s health research has increased, knowledge gaps that impair or prevent informed decision making loom large. Simply calling on women to be their own advocates and clinicians to provide higher quality care can only get us so far. Thus women, their clinicians, and policymakers should be aware that the next extension of the Women’s Health Initiative study (WHI) is up for review at a time when even very high quality studies go unfunded or face severe budget cuts.

The WHI is an unprecedented National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored study that enrolled 161,000 women ages 50 to 79 from 1993 to 1998 (available at: www.whi.org/). The original 15 years study included both a randomized clinical trial and an observational cohort study. The WHI overcame the initial expectations of many that it would prove to be an expensive validation of what was then prevailing truth regarding the benefits of hormone replacement therapy.

Fortunately, the returns to the investment in WHI did not end there. The longitudinal follow-up of the WHI cohort has yielded hundreds of breakthrough findings on women’s health and health care, including dozens of articles on the effects of estrogen and progestin on outcomes ranging from risk of cardiovascular disease to dementia, cancer, and health related quality of life (see, for example, Manson et al. 2013; for a full bibliography see, www.whi.org/).

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