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The Disparities in Healthcare for Black Women

The Disparities in Healthcare for Black Women

Like so many people across the United States and around the world, my colleagues and I at Celmatix feel deeply outraged by the brutal and senseless murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. We stand in solidarity with the millions of people lifting their voices in protest and also join countless more in reflecting on what we can do to make this a turning point for racial inequality.

Inequality comes in many forms for People of Color, both here and abroad, but race-related health disparities are among the starkest and most resistant to progress. Being a Black female further amplifies these inequities, which is particularly troubling and ironic given the fact that Women of Color make up the majority of healthcare workers. Over the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this unfortunate reality into even more clear focus.

An often-cited quote in the business world is “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” At Celmatix, we have been working for over a decade to address critical gaps in data collection for women’s health. This has included thinking outside of the bubble of traditional research metropolises like Boston and San Francisco, and expanding our research partnerships to reproductive health centers of excellence across the US and to biological repositories that allow us to reach women at community health centers and urban hospitals which serve women who may not have access to reproductive specialist care. In addition to investing in diversified data for our scientific and clinical research studies, we’ve also made significant investments in our “Next Gen Women’s Project,” an ambitious two-year consumer research effort that interviewed or surveyed more than 4K millennial women to understand how their healthcare needs differ from earlier generations of women and to discern their attitudes concerning their reproductive health and fertility. As part of this research, we had the privilege of collaborating with the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Women’s Health Magazine, and Oprah Magazine to better understand why Black women are facing higher infertility rates, greater stigma around reproductive challenges, and larger barriers to accessing fertility care.

Diving into the numbers, a troubling pattern emerges:

  1. Maternal mortality and injury rates are higher for Black females, irrespective of income or education level: Black women are 3–4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women. Black women are also 3–4 times more likely to suffer from a severe disability resulting from childbirth than White women (source).

Taken together, the picture is clear: the disparities we see in women’s health funding, research, delivery, innovation, data collection, and outcomes are consistently amplified multifold for women of color. As we reflect on policy changes that could have an outsized impact on addressing centuries of racial inequality in the US, we can think of no better place to start than with improving the health of black women.

Here are steps we can take immediately that will meaningfully impact these numbers:

  1. Anti-racism and implicit bias training must be made mandatory for healthcare professionals working with black mothers: Anti-racism and implicit bias training needs to be incorporated into medical school education, but in the short term, state licensing boards and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) should take the lead here to address disparities in maternal health. For maintenance of board certification, 35 hours of annual CME training is required for all OB/GYNs. The licensing bodies and ABOG should immediately require that a certain number of hours of CME training be mandated to include bias and anti-racism curriculum. This re-education needs to happen at every level of care, including for nurses and other healthcare professionals who interact with black women during labor and delivery. Recent initiatives are a good start, but we need to go further, faster. Relying on voluntary measures may mean we will have to wait a long time to see the impact of these recommendations.

There are a number of amazing institutions that are working tirelessly to address the multitude of health disparities for Black women. Please join us in supporting these important organizations.

Black Women’s Health Imperative
The country’s first nonprofit organization created by Black women to help protect and advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls

Black Mamas Matter Alliance
The alliance helps advocate for better legislation to reduce black maternal mortality, highlights necessary areas of research and spreads information about the social determinants of health that influence outcomes like traumatic birth or maternal and infant mortality.

Sister Song
SisterSong is a Southern-based, national membership organization; its purpose is to build an effective network of individuals and organizations to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities

Fertility for Colored Girls
Provides services for underserved Black women and couples. This includes educational programming about treatment options, resources to connect with counselors, financial grants, and monthly support group meetings hosted by seven different chapters across the country,

Finally, there are a number of scholars and journalists who have been conducting research related to these health disparities and raising the alarm through their reporting. To learn more we recommend:

Linda Villarosa: Journalist

Patrice Peck: Journalist

Laurie Zephyrin, MD: Obgyn, VP Health Care Delivery System Reform at Commonwealth Fund

Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy, and Preterm Birth. Davis DA.NY: NYU Press:

Black Lives Matter: Claiming a Space for Evidence-Based Outrage in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Eichelberger KY, Doll K, Ekpo GE, Zerden ML. Am J Public Health. 2016 Oct;106(10):1771–2. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303313.

Key Facts on Health and Health Care by Race and Ethnicity, Samantha Artiga and Kendal Orgera. KFF, Published: Nov 12, 2019

When Maternity Wards in Black Neighborhoods Disappear: NYT, Kelly Glass, May 4, 2020

A Preventable Cancer is on the Rise in Alabama: The New Yorker, Eyal Press, March 30, 2020


 

This article originally appeared on Celmatix, where Dr. Piraye Yurttas Beim, who is also an EndoFound Board Member, is the founder and CEO. If you have additional data to share or organizations you would like us to highlight here, please reach out to at info@celmatix.com or info@endofound.org. Please also check back as we plan to expand on this list in the coming weeks. And finally, we urge you to help us raise awareness about this important issue by sharing this in your networks.