Health Disparities & the Pregnant Black Woman

By: Ciara White

 

Unpacking the issues:

Black Americans have endured hundreds of years of racism in the United States. This has occurred within the various systems and institutions that are part of America’s history with the African American population. Black American’s have and currently experience inequality in the health care system and have been subjected to systemic barriers and are affected the most by these barriers and systems.

 

Serena Williams is a four-time Olympic gold winner, has an outstanding net worth of $200 million, a loving mother, and also an educated black woman that has earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Ms. Williams has also given birth to her beautiful baby girl, Alexis, in September of 2017. However, what should have been a joyous occasion soon became immediately life-threatening. During birth, Ms. Williams underwent many complications shortly after she gave birth to her child, Alexis. Serena Williams received a delayed response from her nurse when she expressed to the nurse, she had shortness of breath. According to P.R. Lockhart, “She walked out of the hospital room so her mother wouldn’t worry and told the nearest nurse, between gasps, that she needed a CT scan with contrast and IV heparin (a blood thinner) right away (Lockhart, 2018). The nurse thought her pain medicine might be making her confused. But Serena insisted, and soon enough a doctor was performing an ultrasound of her leg” (Vox, 2018)”. Serena Williams mentioned that she was “fortunate to have had access to such an incredible medical team of doctors and nurses at a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment” (CNN,2018). Unfortunately, not all black women are in the same social or financial status as Ms. Williams. Even more troubling is the fact that in spite of her resources, she was still not taken seriously when she expressed her shortness of breath to her nurse.

 

Statistics

According to the CDC, the “Pregnancy-Related Mortality Ratio (PRMR) for African- American women that ranged from ages thirty and below was approximately four to five times that for their white counterparts” (CDC, 2019). The CDC also stated that the “PRMR among black women with a completed college education or higher was 1.6 times that of white women with less than a high school diploma and women with a college education or higher, the PRMR for black women was 5.2 times that of their white counterparts” (CDC, 2019). Black women in the United States experience the most life-threatening maternal health outcomes such as high rates of death related to pregnancy or childbirth. Black women have succumbed to many health issues during pregnancy such as preeclampsia, fibroids, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (National Partnership, 2018). A combination of both societal and health system factors plays a huge role regarding the extremely higher rates of life-threatening health outcomes and maternal mortality due to barriers such as obtaining access to healthcare, discrimination, and social status

 

Credit: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6835a3.htm

 

Hope for the Future

Racism is the driving force behind disparately high rates of maternal and infant deaths among Black Americans. In order to improve black maternal health, there should be policies in place as well as the social factors that should be acknowledged to protect the lives of black mothers and their children. Addressing social factors such as poverty and racism could lead to awareness of the issue and also put more policies into play to aid the black women who are subjected to the effects of racism and discrimination in the health care system. According to Taylor and colleagues, “Ensuring access to comprehensive, affordable, high-quality health care is vital in the effort to eliminate racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality” (Taylor et al., 2019). “In doing so, policymakers should prioritize underserved populations, including women and infants of color, low-income communities, and those living in rural and medically underserved areas” (Taylor et al., 2019). The authors also go on to list some helpful policy strategies that address the threat of pregnancy-related mortality such as improving the access to critical services, screen and treat women at risk for preterm births, offer African American women tools to navigate health settings, and to train providers to address racism and build a more diverse health care workforce (Taylor et al., 2019)

 

Conclusion

Black women deserve to have safe and healthy pregnancies, pre-and post-childbirth. In order to make a significant change in black maternal health, there must be huge systemic change, mainly in the health care system. This matter calls for an improvement of better access to health care, adequate training in cultural competence, additional research, along with fair and more responsive reaction to the black woman’s needs. Supporting policies and law-makers that prioritize the health of African-American women and children will ultimately lead to healthier families and communities.

 

 

 

References

Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Pregnancy-Related Deaths – United States, 2007–2016. (2019, September 05). Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6835a3.htm

Lockhart, P. (2018, January 11). What Serena Williams’s scary childbirth story says about medical treatment of black women. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/1/11/16879984/serena-williams-childbirth-scare-black-women

Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Pregnancy-Related Deaths – United States, 2007–2016. (2019, September 05). Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6835a3.htm

Serena Williams: What my life-threatening experience taught me about giving birth. (2018, February 20). Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/20/opinions/protect-mother-pregnancy-williams-opinion/index.html

Taylor, J., & Novoa, C. (2019, May 2). Eliminating Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Mortality. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2019/05/02/469186/eliminating-racial-disparities-maternal-infant-mortality/

 

One thought on “Health Disparities & the Pregnant Black Woman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.