Black women across America are facing a significant health crisis: They are dying disproportionately from pregnancy-related causes.
Consider this: Nationally, Black infants are more than twice as likely to die as white infants and Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to die from cervical cancer – and 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes.
“When you first hear the numbers, you become shocked and incredibly disheartened,” Dr Andrea Jackson, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Guardian.
“Why isn’t this sounding a bigger alarm?” she asked.
In San Francisco for example, one of America’s wealthiest cities, between 2012 and 2014, the San Francisco Department of Public Health noted that Black infants there died at a rate of 9.6 per 1,000 births, a glaring difference from the white rate of 2.1 deaths, the Guardian reported. Although Blacks make up only 5% of all births in the city, according to the Guardian, 23% of all infant deaths were African-American infants.
Some health officials say racism may be an underlying cause.
“The high and rising maternal mortality ratio in the United States is tragic and unacceptable,” Lori Tremmel Freeman, Chief Executive Officer
of the National Association of County and City Health Department Officials, said in a statement. Her organization represents the nation’s nearly 3,000 local governmental health departments.
“Even when controlling for age, socioeconomic status and education, maternal deaths among African-American women remain four times the rate of white women, 46 percent of which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are potentially preventable, compared with 33 percent of such deaths among white women.”
“For example, an African-American woman in Mississippi is almost twice as likely to die as a white woman in Mississippi or an African-American woman in California,” Freeman said. “We need to make visible the role of racism and non-biomedical factors that underlie these deaths.”
So why are lBlack mothers and Black babies at risk?
Health officials say many Black women are more likely to be uninsured outside of pregnancy and they are also more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension that make having a baby more dangerous. And health officials argue that some hospitals with a history of segregation often offer a lower quality of care for Black mothers.
Freeman also said that local health departments remain significantly underfunded and often understaffed. She said local health departments can –and do — save lives, but they need to be appropriately funded.
“Fortunately, there is a bi-partisan effort underway in Congress for The Preventing Maternal Deaths Act and Maternal Health Accountability Act that would help establish maternal mortality review committees in all 50 states,” Freeman said.
But, she added, “the legislation is still awaiting movement in Washington.”
Sadly, the wheels of government grind slowly. And, given the current state of politics in Washington, D.C. –from the White House to Capitol Hill – I don’t see the health concerns of Black women rising to the top of the congressional priority list.
What do you think?
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