May 3, 2022

SWHR 2022 Gala Recognizes Leaders Advancing Women’s Health Research and Representation  

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) hosted its 2022 Annual Awards Gala on April 28, 2022. An event dedicated to honoring leaders who are advancing women’s health and women’s representation in science and medicine, the Annual Awards Gala represents an opportune time to reflect on the advancements in women’s health research, identify current opportunities, and recognize the role of federal and other partners across science and public health.   

The 2022 Awards Gala keynote speaker was Kaveeta Vasisht, MD, PharmD, Associate Commissioner for Women’s Health at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). During her remarks, Dr. Vasisht spoke about the history of women’s research at the FDA and across government organizations. She explained how historically, increased knowledge and understanding in science often occurred as a result of difficult moments in patients’ lives, particularly for women. Now, advancements like digital tools, decentralized trials, and the application of real-world data to fill information gaps are helping to accelerate women’s health at the FDA and beyond — resulting in expanded trial enrollment, deeper gender- and sex-specific scientific understandings, and eventually improved women’s health outcomes.  

“We share the Society for Women’s Health Research’s goal to make women’s health mainstream, by protecting women with research and not from research. This is not a new concept, but now we have new capabilities and rapidly evolving technology to help us do this work,” said Dr. Vasisht.  

Dr. Vasisht closed her remarks by encouraging “each of us to identify how disease and treatment responses are different for women, and to sharpen our focus of understanding these differences among women.”  

The SWHR honorees recognized at the Gala are three health care leaders who have supported and accelerated women’s health significantly over their careers: Wanda Barfield, MD, MPH, FAAAP, RADM USPHS (ret.), with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pfizer, and Sudip S. Parikh, PhD, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  

Dr. Barfield, Director of the Division of Reproductive Health (DRH) within the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) at CDC was awarded SWHR’s Health Public Service Visionary Award for her work in advancing maternal health and building community partnerships.  

Dr. Barfield grew up wanting to be a veterinarian but started practicing neonatology after graduate school, said award presenter Diana W. Bianchi, MD, Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since then, she’s been be drawn to improve health for women and infants and rely on organizational partnerships.

“The division that I work in is filled in with women who are driven to provide equal and equitable care,” said Dr. Barfield.  

Pfizer was awarded SWHR’s Health Industry Visionary Award, accepted by Judy Sewards, Vice President of the Head of Clinical Trial Experience for Pfizer’s Global Product Development Organization, for its work in developing a COVID-19 vaccine in record time — saving the lives of people across the globe. Shontelle Dodson, PharmD, SWHR Board Chair and Executive Vice President and Head of Medical Affairs at Astellas Pharma, presented the award.   

“Pfizer is an amazing place for working women, and the commitment we have as a company to women’s health is something that I’m very proud of,” Sewards said.

“Women are often the driving force of health care decisions in their families,” Sewards said — a reality that informed Pfizer’s vaccine creation and rollout during the pandemic, she added. 

Dr. Parikh, CEO for AAAS and executive publisher at the Science family of journals, was awarded SWHR’s Health Education Visionary Award for his work increasing access for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in education and in the scientific workforce. Laura Cohen, Associate Vice President at Lilly Neuroscience Corporate Affairs, presented Dr. Parikh the award.  

Dr. Parikh said his award holds both professional and personal significance. As the father of 11-year-old twin daughters, he hopes they will grow up to see themselves equitably represented in science and medicine.

“If we’re going to have clinical trials with women in them, if we’re going to have medicines that work for women, we have to have scientists at the table who are women,” Dr. Parikh said.

SWHR President and CEO Kathryn G. Schubert, MPP, CAE introduced SWHR’s new Women’s Health Equity Initiative at the event, which highlights statistics on women’s health in the United States and aims to engage communities on finding solutions to improve health equity across multiple disease states, conditions, and life stages — with an initial focus on Alzheimer’s disease, bone health, maternal health, and menopause. 

“Did you know that women have a 30% higher risk of dying from Alzheimer’s disease than men? Did you know Black and Native American women have the highest rates of pregnancy-related deaths? Or did you know that 34% of women with menopause symptoms are not diagnosed?,” Schubert asked. These are examples of disparities the new Initiative aims to address, and this work showcases SWHR’s commitment to women’s health equity, she explained.  

News4 reporter Derrick Ward hosted the evening’s proceedings. In a demonstration of SWHR’s support for the people of Ukraine, the Gala hall was lit up in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Read more about how Russia’s invasion is impacting women and girls, on SWHR’s blog. 

Funds raised from the event support SWHR’s science, policy, and educational initiatives, which offer opportunities to highlight women’s health and to educate women, health care providers, and policy decision-makers on ways to improve the quality of life and health outcomes for women across the lifespan.