As a 23-year-old white woman, I suppose I’ve never really been aware of just how severely racism impacts the healthcare system in America. I am, of course, conscious of how racism manifests itself in our society. However, I ignorantly assumed that hospitals and medical professionals were providing the same unbiased and attentive care to each patient. Well, apparently, I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
I have only recently become aware of the racial disparities that exist in the American healthcare system. Most specifically, I have become fixated on the existence of racial disparity in pregnancy-related deaths. Before tackling this article, I had no idea that Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. The CDC reported this finding back in September 2019 and noted that most of these pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. In fact, 60% of these deaths can be prevented, according to the researchers.
How? Well, better health care, better access to housing and transportation, greater government funding, and active efforts by medical staff to eradicate racism is a pretty good starting point.
These disparities increase with age as well. The CDC found that in women over the age of 30, pregnancy mortality rates are four to five times higher in black women. This data also doesn’t alter when looking at groups with higher levels of education. Regardless of the other variables thrown into the mix, pregnancy mortality rates remain consistently higher among women of color.
And in New York City, it’s even worse. Pregnancy mortality rates in black women are 12 times higher than the national average. Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t solely lie in pregnancy mortality.
According to a recent Forbes article written by Allison Norlian, Black women have a 40% higher breast cancer mortality rate. Black women also have a seven to eight times higher rate of diabetes. Health disparities in America don’t only affect Black women – Black Americans, in general, are heavily impacted – yet, according to data, Black women are at greater risk than Black men.
One of the most shocking facts I discovered is that Black women have 15% more cortisol in their bloodstream than white women. What does this mean?. . .Okay, well, cortisol is a stress hormone. It’s associated with health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, depression, etc. High levels of cortisol are a bad thing for your health, so this statistic is certainly not good news. Moreover, these high-stress levels are not merely a coincidence. The high levels of cortisol in Black women are a result of systematic racism and discrimination.
Racism in America is literally killing and destroying its Black community from the inside out.
In a recent news report by France 24 – yes, even France is talking about the racism in America’s healthcare system – several women discussed their experiences at the hospital when pregnant. A common complaint is mistreatment and being ignored. When one woman’s contractions were getting worse and worse, no doctor would listen to her. She said she felt ignored by the medical staff. It appears that doctors undermine the woman’s pains and needs in these cases.
The prejudice that lives in our hospitals is a serious risk for pregnant Black women. So much so that these women are starting to look at alternative ways to conceive. For instance, the use of a midwife. The France 24 report spoke with some women attending a birthing class given by a midwife. One woman, wearing a Black Birthing Lives Matter shirt, told the camera how important it is to protect moms no matter their race. The women in the class express their frustration at the deep-rooted racism that continues to plague their community. They express their fear of pregnancy-related complications and recognize that their race puts them in a state of precarity with regard to healthcare.
But it shouldn’t be this way. Regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or economic status, all Americans should have access to safe, affordable healthcare.
America is literally the ONLY developed country in which pregnancy-related mortality rates have continued to grow in the past twenty years!
Racism and gender discrimination have an impact on our health. The data is a clear reminder of how serious this issue is for our nation.
Maternal health in Black women and the prejudices in our healthcare system have been amplified by the voices of Vice-President elect Kamala Harris and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Bruce McIntyre, a single father who lost the mother of his child due to preventable pregnancy complications, explained to France 24 that Harris gives him hope. He recognizes that having government officials like Harris offers the potential to eradicate these racist systems.
Racism in America’s healthcare system is a much more complex issue than what I have begun to outline in this article. Furthermore, I am certainly no expert in this domain. Yet, what can be easily ascertained is the gravity of this situation. No other high-income country in the world is experiencing such large racial disparities in pregnancy-related mortality.
So what can we do?
Familiarizing yourself more with the causes of this phenomenon is certainly necessary before determining a long-lasting solution. During my research, I found a lot of data and studies supporting my findings. Finally, I stumbled upon the MOMS Act.
Reintroduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, this act is a strong first step.
The Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards Act of 2019 (MOMS Act) aims to reduce pregnancy complications and deaths. By updating safety standards, implementing the best maternal safety practices, and improving the investigation of pregnancy-related deaths, this act will protect mothers across the nation.
More than anything, however, there needs to be more advocacy on this issue. As previously mentioned, I was not aware of just how severely racism affects our healthcare system and Black women. Educating ourselves about these topics and openly speaking out against racism is something we should all engage in. Keeping informed and drawing from credible, unbiased sources is also key.
I highly recommend that you explore the following links to better understand this phenomenon. It is inexcusable that women of color in America experience higher pregnancy-related mortality rates when 60% of them are preventable. It is inexcusable that Black men continue to die on the streets and Black women continue to die in the hospitals. Let’s come together as a nation and ensure that each individual receives the same care and attention.
Racial and Ethnic Disparities Continue in Pregnancy-Related Deaths
Four Black Women—All CEOs—Have Created A ‘Call To Action’ To Close The Health Gap For Black Americans
With Maternal Mortality Rates On The Rise In The United States, Gillibrand Announces New Legislation To Help Reduce Maternal Deaths, Help Hospitals Implement Best Practices To Prevent Women From Dying Before, During And After Childbirth