News and Opinions  –  2020

ReAct Report: Antibiotic resistance affects men and women differently

Share the article


There is, to date, very little detailed examination of the gendered effects of antibiotic resistance, both medically and sociologically. Sex and gender is important to consider in enhancing the understanding of the ‘human face’ of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic use, and how it affects a variety of people in different ways throughout their daily lives. ReAct now issues a report that explores the ways in which sex and gender interact with antibiotic resistance and makes the case for all actors engaged in addressing antibiotic resistance to undertake further work in this area.

Click image to download report (PDF, 1,7 MB).

How does infectious diseases and treatments differentially affect the physical bodies of men, women, children and people of diverse sex? And, how does gender affect people’s behaviors and responses to disease, antibiotic use, medical uptake and antibiotic resistance? A large barrier to action is that antibiotic resistance affects the most vulnerable and therefore puts the heaviest burden on their health and food systems on top of many other pressing development issues. Efforts to tackle antibiotic resistance must therefore be holistic and must be shaped by people’s experiences and on-the-ground realities.

There is a dearth of literature which explicitly addresses sex, gender and antibiotic resistance. In a report from 2018, the WHO recognized the need to

“take the first step towards better considering gender and equity issues” in countries’ attempts to address antibiotic resistance.

ReAct to mainstream sex and gender into its work

ReAct now issues a report that was developed as part of ReAct’s work to mainstream considerations of sex and gender in all of our work. The report was jointly produced by all the staff of ReAct and the consultants Linda Waldman, Violet Barasa, Stella Odiase from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex University. The work was supported through a contract awarded to Triple Line Consulting Ltd by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Sex and gender factors in risks of getting affected

Sex and gender are important factors in the exposure to and risk for transmission of infections and antibiotic resistance because:

  • Addressing gender in relation to health and disease, and creating greater opportunities for inclusion and participation, is an important way of tackling inequality and inequity in society.
  • Men’s and women’s bodies are biologically and physiologically different, so they experience disease differently.
  • Men’s and women’s different biological make-up means they respond to medication differently.
  • Gender plays a role in determining who has access to and control over resources and whether these can be used for prevention and treatment.
  • Gender affects people’s exposure to animals and the risk of zoonotic infection or enhanced exposure to antibiotic resistance.
  • Gender affects the kinds of employment and work that people do, thereby increasing some people’s exposure to risky activities and products.
  • Gender influences who has access to health care and shapes healthcare encounters, the nature of medication prescribed and the risk of infection in these settings.

A greater understanding of these interconnections can help when designing effective strategies, that ensure that those most affected by disease have access to medication, but also that adequate precautions are taken against misuse of antibiotics and increasing resistance to these.

More news and opinion from 2020