By: Marsha Henderson, M.C.R.P.
For one week in May, the nation celebrates women’s health. I often find at these celebrations that no one mentions FDA. This is unfortunate, because throughout its 100-year history FDA has played a leading role in advancing women’s health.
In its early years, the Agency worked to ban harmful, addictive and poisonous tonics that were marketed as cure-alls for women. Later, FDA worked to help women avoid public health tragedies like the serious birth defects seen in many countries where pregnant women used thalidomide – a drug that was not approved in the U.S. thanks to Dr. Francis Kelsey, an FDA medical officer.
When I joined FDA in the 1990’s, the Agency was working hard to remove regulatory barriers that limited our understanding of how medicines and medical devices affect women. We changed the regulations. We partnered with NIH, academia, advocacy groups, and drug companies to support women’s health research. We also developed strategies to increase the number of women included in clinical trials for new medical products. These activities helped all of us learn more about the ways sex differences affect the safety and usefulness of FDA-regulated products.
During this time, I also helped launch the Take Time to Care Outreach Program. Through this program, FDA has been able to use creative partnerships and innovative outreach tools like telenovelas to connect millions of women with reliable information they can use to make better health decisions for themselves and their families.
All of these efforts have helped to protect and promote the health of women – leading the way to improved policies and greater awareness about vital women’s health issues such as diabetes, mammography, and medication use during pregnancy. We have made great strides; however, there is still much work to be done. FDA will continue to promote policies, research and educational initiatives that advance women’s health.
During this year’s National Women’s Health Week, I thank FDA employees and our external partners for their continued service to women’s health. I also encourage the nation’s health professionals and the women they serve to look to FDA for women’s health resources. We are here for you.
Marsha Henderson, M.C.R.P., is FDA’s Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health