NAYA| Are women at greater risk of catching COVID-19?

Madonna Matar, MD, infectious disease doctor and president of the Lebanese Society for Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology, attributed this difference in death rates to biological and lifestyle factors.
by Vanessa Ghanem

24 March 2020 | 17:26

Source: by Annahar

  • by Vanessa Ghanem
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 24 March 2020 | 17:26

A nurse prepares a room at the quarantine department at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT: As coronavirus continues rapidly spread across the world, affecting businesses and stock markets, canceling events, and shuttering offices, schools, and universities – some health experts see that the crisis can affect women and men differently.

Although COVID-19 is infecting men and women equally, women appear less likely to die from the virus, according to a study conducted by the Chinese Center for Disease Control.

The study, which included a sample of 44,600 patients who tested positive for COVID-19, showed that the death rate among men was 2.8%, compared with 1.7% for women.

Madonna Matar, MD, infectious disease doctor and president of the Lebanese Society for Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology, attributed this difference in death rates to biological and lifestyle factors.

“Studies proved that Chinese men are more likely to smoke than women. Also, their lifestyles are unhealthier than that of women, including diet and eating habits,” Matar told Annahar’s NAYA. “The said facts play a role in harming their immune systems,” she added, stressing that this does not concern China solely, but also applies to other parts of the world.

In the same context, Matar noted that, generally, women tend to produce stronger immune responses against infections than men.

“Women have intrinsically a stronger immune system than men. It’s in their genes and hormones,” she said.

Despite the mentioned facts, Matar pointed out that “with this new virus, everybody can get infected – and that’s the important point.”

But, does the crisis put women at a disproportionate risk?

Health workers and caregivers

In less obvious ways, the virus appears to disproportionately affect women.

A 2007 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that typical gender roles can “influence where men and women spend their time, and the infectious agents they come into contact with, as well as the nature of exposure, its frequency, and its intensity.”

In other terms, some roles handled by women in society can put them at a higher risk of catching viruses.

Around the world, women make up a majority of health care workers, almost 70% in 104 countries as analyzed by WHO, and most of them occupy nursing roles.

In China’s Hubei Province, the original epicenter of coronavirus outbreak, more than half of the doctors and 90% of the nurses are women – as stated by the Shanghai Women’s Federation, a government body.

In Lebanon, the number is around 80%, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut and the Order of Nurses in Lebanon (ONL).

Myrna Abi Abdallah-Doumit, Ph.D, president of the ONL, explained to NAYA that nurses are on the front lines of efforts to combat and contain the coronavirus.

“Nurses, the vast majority of whom are females, are more exposed to the virus because they are involved in intimate care of patients,” Abi Abdallah-Doumit said. “They’re the ones drawing blood and collecting specimens.

“Women in general and female nurses, in particular, have a caring behavior. They are caregivers and this can be clearly seen either through the relationship they establish with patients or through the way they look after sick family members,” she added.

Lebanon’s mother nurses

“What all the nurses are doing now is not an easy task. They are certainly afraid. They are passing through tough times. But despite that, they chose to be on the line of defense against an unseen enemy,” Abi Abdallah-Doumit told NAYA.

“And on this Mother’s Day, we cannot but acknowledge all the resilient mother nurses who are combatting this virus and who live in constant fear of infecting their children and families,” she added.

Last week, a video went viral on social media, showing a nurse working in the coronavirus unit at the government-run Rafik Hariri University Hospital, which has been the leading medical center fighting the coronavirus.

In the video, Lara Hammoud said that her children might send Mother’s Day greetings and wishes to her this year via Skype call.

“I am not seeing my children in order to protect myself and protect them,” she said in the video.

Hammoud also mentioned that she took the step to work within the coronavirus unit to “protect my country, people, and nation.”

Users were quick to react to the video, commending Hammoud’s resilience and strength.

Abi Abdallah Doumit hoped that the government and hospitals would recognize the nurses’ efforts in terms of pay and paid leave.

She concluded by sending a motivational message via NAYA to Lebanon’s nurses.

“We are proud of you,” she said. “You proved to be pioneers in defending Lebanon and its people and you showed a high level of professionalism. Don’t forget, the storm will pass.”


Welcome to “NAYA," the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]

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