NEW DELHI: The biological advantage of greater protection from COVID-19 deaths that women in most other countries have seems to be completely missing for females in India.
The first-ever analysis of gender differentials in COVID-19 deaths in the country has revealed that while the overall number of infected men is higher, relative mortality due to the disease is higher among women than men -- in contravention to the global trend.
The analysis by the researchers associated with the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, Institute of Health Management Research in Jaipur and Harvard University in the US has shown that 3.3 per cent of all women contracting the disease in the country are dying while this rate is 2.9 percent for males.
The difference is the starkest in the age group of 40-49 years where 3.2 per cent of the infected women, as compared to 2.1 per cent males, have succumbed to the contagious disease and also in the age group 5-19 years that has only seen female deaths.
The findings of the research Equal risk, unequal burden? Gender differentials in COVID-19 mortality in India have been published in the Journal of Global Health Science and are based on COVID-19 mortalities in India till May 20 when the total confirmed cases were 112,027 with 3,433 deaths at a case fatality ratio of 3.1 per cent.
73,654 males and 38,373 women were infected then, while 2,165 males and 1,268 females had lost their lives to the pandemic.
Importantly, no infected male in the age group of 5-19 had died in India whereas death rate in the age group among girls was 0.6 per cent.
"The social determinants like access to healthcare and general health and nutrition status which are generally worse for women in India than their male counterparts could explain these differences that defy the global trend," health economist William Joe from the IEG who is the lead author of the paper told The New Indian Express.
Globally similar analyses in countries like US, China and Italy have shown that the relative death rate is higher among males and the differences have been attributed to sex-based immunological differences due to female hormones, a lower prevalence of smoking in women, and men developing co-morbid conditions such as hypertension at a younger age than women.
The researchers noted that "although males share a higher burden of death but at the same time it is important to note that females have a relatively high risk of COVID-19 death".
"The difference is found to be statistically significant for three age groups (5–19 years, 30–39 years, and 40–49 years)," the paper added.
Joe underlined that the findings could have two significant policy implications.
"At no point, should governments think that women are at an advantage in dealing with the infections and also the health and nutrition support programmes should be continued with enhanced focus even during the pandemic situation," he said.