Half of the human race has been neglected in large-scale medical research. The National Institutes of Health is only now moving to correct the problem with a major study of women's health. The mystery is why it has taken so long.

The issue flared up recently among women's rights advocates and in Congress. Among flagrant examples of the male scientific establishment's long-standing emphasis on male health were the NIH's largest study of health problems among the elderly, which included no women for the first 20 years, and an experiment to examine the effect of one aspirin a day on the frequency of heart attacks, in which 22,000 male physicians were enlisted. Yet women also get old and have heart attacks. And they have distinct medical problems.Only last fall the NIH, apparently to head off legislation mandating the step, created an Office of Research on Women's Health. Recently the new head of NIH, Dr. Bernadine Healy, announced a 10-year, $500 million effort to track the health of several hundred thousand women. The study will evaluate medical treatments that women receive (such as voguish hormone treatment in menopause) and the effects of smoking, diet and exercise.

It's time women got a fair share of the fruits of publicly funded medical research, and protection from the flaws of research done only on men.