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What’s in a Presidential Memorandum?

April 22, 2024
by Kayla Yup

Explaining the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research

Last November, President Joe Biden made women’s health a federal priority.

This priority was launched through a Presidential Memorandum, signed in the Oval Office on November 13, 2023, establishing the first-ever White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research. Women’s Health Research at Yale’s Director Carolyn M. Mazure, PhD, was tapped to chair the endeavor, led by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.

“Women make up more than half the population. But for too long, they've been underrepresented when it comes to health research and the money spent on that research,” President Biden said at the signing. “That’s going to change today.”

Now, if you’re like me, you may have a million questions about what the memorandum entails, and what the Initiative will

accomplish. So, I decided to break down what the document actually means, and most importantly, why it matters.

Here’s a WHRY Undergraduate Fellow’s guide to understanding the Memorandum on the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research.

What is a Presidential Memorandum?

A presidential memorandum is a directive issued by the president to manage the executive branch. This particular memorandum creates the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research and directs agencies to carry out specific actions.

Taking it Section by Section

Section 1

The memorandum starts off with a primer on disparities in women’s health research.

Here are some key takeaways:

Despite women comprising half of the United States population, a “lack of timely research and data on women’s health has left health care providers without important tools to diagnose and treat millions of women with debilitating conditions.”

What are some of these conditions?

Here’s the spread they provided: cardiovascular disease (note: more than 60 million women in the United States live with a form of heart disease), Alzheimer’s disease (note: two thirds of those with AD are women), autoimmune disorders (note: 80 percent of those with these disorders are women), mental health conditions (note: women are more likely to have depression and anxiety), and those disorders that are unique to women, such as endometriosis and fibroids.

And it’s not just the federal government that needs to be involved. The memo states: “We all have a part to play in galvanizing women’s health research, developing innovative and cutting-edge interventions that promote women’s health, and ensuring that women across the United States have access to high-quality health care.”

Section 2

Section 2 simply states that the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research will be housed within the Office of the First Lady — meaning First Lady Dr. Biden is leading the effort in collaboration with the White House Gender Policy Council.

Section 3

This section says that President Biden will designate a Chair —Dr. Mazure — for the Initiative who will be part of the Office of the First Lady and collaborate with the Gender Policy Council. It also lists the members of the Initiative who are the leaders of 20 different offices, agencies, and departments.

Section 4

Here, the Initiative’s mission is clearly defined: “to advance women’s health research in the United States.”

The Initiative will look for areas of additional investment in women’s health research and set priorities to guide federal research investments. In other words, it will figure out important gaps in our knowledge of women’s health — and identify the research needed to fill those gaps. It will also develop policy recommendations that focus on ensuring women’s health needs are reported for federal research and data collection efforts, addressing health disparities and inequities impacting women, and supporting the translation of research from the bench to the bedside.

Some of the Initiative’s other functions are meant to engage the private sector. For example, the Initiative will identify opportunities for public-private partnerships in the hope of driving innovation.

Section 5

This section sets a deadline for the first part of the directive. Within 45 days of this memorandum, enacted Nov. 13, 2023, the Initiative has to provide recommendations to the President on “concrete actions that agencies and offices can take to advance women’s health research.”

The heads of agencies and offices in the Initiative must provide information to the Chair for the President to be informed about their progress at least twice a year.

Section 6

This memorandum can only be implemented within the bounds of applicable law and available appropriations.

The Takeaway

The Initiative has a lot to accomplish within its advisory role — from finding gaps in our knowledge of women’s health and guiding investments in those areas, to driving innovation through public-private partnerships. I’ll look forward to the progress updates.

To close, I’ll leave you with a statement First Lady Dr. Biden released when the Initiative was first launched: “Every woman I know has a story about leaving her doctor’s office with more questions than answers. Not because our doctors are withholding information, but because there’s just not enough research yet on how to best manage and treat even common women’s health conditions. In 2023, that is unacceptable.”

In 2024, and every year from now, it will continue to be unacceptable. This change is important.

Submitted by Sara Luciano on April 15, 2024