Global health professionals are pointing out that personal protective equipment (PPE) is usually designed for men, leaving female health workers further exposed to infection amid the pandemic.
Research conducted in the United Kingdom indicates that more than twice as many female healthcare workers found PPE and respiratory equipment a poor fit when compared to their male counterparts.
The issue is certainly nothing new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought inadvertent attention to the problem.
“Because women are 70% of the health workforce, therefore the women’s sizes get used up first,” explained Ann Keeling, senior fellow at Women in Global Health. “Then what’s available in a shortage is the very large PPE, which basically is swimming on women’s bodies.”
According to Dr. Michelle Acorn, chief nurse at the International Council of Nurses, the majority of PPE is designed for American or European males and thus is too large for the average female healthcare worker.
While there were more COVID-19 deaths among male health care workers, research conducted in May of 2020 found that about 70% of infections occurred in women.
“Because of this a number of women health workers have chosen to live separately from their families during the pandemic,” added Keeling.
But she maintains the primary issue goes overlooked because of the prevalence of men in leadership roles throughout healthcare. The World Health Organization found that women hold only 25% of leadership roles within global health.
“I am absolutely sure that if you had equal numbers of women in decision-making that they would have been asking this question [on PPE fit] because they would know this is an issue women are facing,” Keeling said.
For now, Keeling, Dr. Acorn and others are encouraging hospital to fit each worker for PPE.
“From an occupational health perspective, employers have a legal duty to provide suitable and correctly fitting PPE for safe working conditions.”