Women's Health

Image of three women scientists in a lab
Credit: NIAID

Women face unique health problems related to many NIAID mission areas—specifically, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and autoimmune disorders. Many infectious and autoimmune diseases affect female populations disproportionately. For example, genital herpes from herpes simplex virus 2 is nearly twice as common among women as among men. Likewise, women account for more cases of chlamydia, lupus, and scleroderma than do men.

Even diseases that strike men and women in nearly equal numbers may have unique consequences or complications for women. For instance, women with HIV are at higher risk of severe cases of gynecological problems, such as chlamydia or bacterial vaginosis, than are non-infected women. Women also risk passing some of these diseases to children during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the women’s health research category in 1994 for annual budgeting purposes and in 2019 it was updated to include the following categories:

  • Studies with only female participants
  • Diseases or health conditions unique to women
  • Disease or conditions that predominantly affect women or girls
  • Research with an overall goal of examining women’s health outcomes, trajectories, risk factors, diagnosis or treatment strategies, or health differences between women and men
  • Career development, training, and meeting grants related to fostering the women’s health research workforce

Why Is Women's Health a Priority for NIAID?

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) mission is to conduct and support basic and translational research to understand, diagnose, prevent and treat infectious and immune-mediated diseases, including diseases that impact the health of women and girls. NIAID takes measures to ensure the involvement of women in clinical trials on various infectious and auto-immune diseases. NIAID is involved in basic and translational research on diseases that disproportionately impact women and girls, such as systemic lupus erythematous (SLE). NIAID also collaborates with other organizations on research initiatives to improve women’s health. Much of the research conducted or funded by NIAID supports various goals and objectives of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) Trans-NIH Strategic Plan for Women’s Health.

How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?

NIAID conducts and supports a range of research relevant to women’s health in the Institute’s mission areas, from sexually transmitted diseases to HIV/AIDS to autoimmune disorders.

Here are a few of the projects that NIAID supports:

  • Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) brings together international investigators and community and industry partners who are devoted to reducing the sexual transmission of HIV through the development and evaluation of products applied topically or administered orally, working within a unique infrastructure specifically designed to facilitate research required to support licensure of these products for widespread use.
  • Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence (ACEs) encourage and enable collaborative research—across scientific disciplines, across medical specialties, and between basic and clinical scientists—in the search for effective treatments for autoimmune diseases.
  • The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) aims to characterize the microbial communities found at several different sites on the human body, including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract, and to analyze the role of these microbes in human health and disease.

Related Public Health and Government Information

To learn about risk factors for diseases that specifically affect women and current prevention and treatment strategies visit the MedlinePlus Women’s Health site.

Biennial Report

The biennial report provides an overview of selected women's health activities sponsored by NIAID.

Read more about the Biennial Report

Sex and Gender-Specific Health Challenges Facing Women

NIAID conducts and supports a range of research relevant to women’s health such as sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, and autoimmune disorders.

Read more about sex and gender-specific health challenges facing women
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