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Alberta Women's Health Foundation refocuses the research

Last Updated Apr 12, 2021 at 11:57 am MDT

Photo Courtesy of Alberta Women's Health Foundation

Alberta Women's Health Foundation is highlighting inequalities in our healthcare system

A new foundation is refocusing our attention from beauty products, to women's health

EDMONTON ( 660 NEWS ) — The Alberta Women’s Health Foundation (AWHF) is a new force in Canadian women’s health. Based out of Edmonton and operated by the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation (RAHF), the charity is one of three major women’s health foundations in Canada. Their first campaign #RefocusTheResearch aims to shift the focus from women’s looks to women’s health.

“Every year billions of dollars is dedicated to researching new innovative beauty products,” says Sharlene Rutherford, President and CEO of RAHF. “But less than one per cent of salary awards in Canada go towards women’s health research.”

Launched on International Women’s Day 2021, the foundation is one of the collaborators on Women’s Health Collective Canada.

“This really allows Alberta to be a bigger player nationally in women’s health research,” says Rutherford. “Now we can stand shoulder to shoulder with our sister foundations in Ontario and B.C.”

Rutherford adds that we need to think of research as a prerequisite for improving care for women and girls.

“If clinical care, and the experience inside of a doctors office is like the engine of a train, it’s research that is the track that lays down the path that clinical care takes.”

LISTEN: 660’s reporter Devon Banfield speaks with AWHF’s Sharlene Rutherford 

Several conditions, like heart disease and osteoarthritis, affect more women than men. Despite this, it was not until the 1990s in Canada that it became mandatory for women to be included in medical research trials.

“Research in women’s health was done on men. The knowledge that came from that, if it was a medication they were looking at researching for example, they would adjust the levels for women,” Rutherford says, giving the example of studies on sleeping aids. “There’s been disastrous results from that. The levels weren’t adequate, there was actually too much.”

Rutherford explains the best way to change this, is to put more money behind research into how different conditions and diseases present differently in women and men. Doctors failing to recognize symptoms in female paitents leads to hundreds of women being turned away from Albertan hospitals every year, only to return with a serious condition like a heart attack or stroke. This is because the symptoms of these conditions in women are lesser known than those in men.

“When we invest in women’s health research, the outcome is better care for women. So by ensuring that we have more funding for women’s health research it means that the health of our mothers, daughters, sisters, and selves all improves over time.”



The gap in healthcare is not just gendered, there are several other factors that determine the quality of care that women receive. This includes race, age, and sexuality — which Rutherford says will be a major focal point for the charity.

“We know there is a big gap in knowledge in intersectional gender research as well. More work needs to be done in the area of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) women — that’s an area that the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation will also focus on.”

The Alberta Women’s Health Foundation supports several research projects around the province. In Edmonton they fund research at the Women and Children’s Research Institute. In Calgary, they support the research done by the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary. Rutherford says that AWHF also provides funding to Dr. Dawn Kingston, who specializes in perinatal research.

According to the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation 

  • The majority of artificial hearts are made in a size that’s too big for many women.
  • Only nine per cent of medications have been tested for safety during pregnancy, putting pregnant women and their unborn babies at risk of side effects.
  • On average, it takes seven years for a woman to get an endometriosis diagnosis because most medical professionals don’t know enough about it.
  • Around 35 per cent more women die of strokes than men but only 35 per cent of clinical trial subjects in cardiovascular research are women.