Black women are still three times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications than white women. Unfortunately, this trend does not end with maternal mortality. Black women are also disproportionately affected by sickle cell anemia, sexually transmitted diseases, and mental health issues.
● African-American women have the highest breast cancer mortality rate in the U.S.
● Black women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) are more at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, yet most PCOS research has focused on white women.
● By age 50, more than 80% of Black women will experience fibroids compared to 70% of white women. Black women are twice as likely as white women to have hysterectomies to manage fibroids.
The causes of these disparities are complex.
1.Plain Old Racism
According to a study from Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, half of the medical students surveyed had false beliefs like “Black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s.” and “Black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white people’s.”
2.Lack of Representation
The Association of Medical Colleges reports that only 2% of doctors identify as Black women. Maybe this is why Dr. Tamika Cross’s credentials were questioned by a Delta employee when she tried to help a distressed passenger on a flight. Her experience is not unique.
As of April 2019, almost 14% of Black women were insured while only 8% of white women were without health insurance. Add this to the fact that Black women are only paid 63 cents for every dollar paid to white non-Hispanic males. This leaves many Black women having to prioritize other necessities over healthcare.
These are just a few of the strands in the web of problems that cause healthcare disparity for Black women. The solutions will need to be as multifaceted as the issues themselves. The statistics can be disheartening and make us feel hopeless, but people are taking notice and more importantly, taking action.
This month alone, New York Attorney General Letitia James and many others wrote to Congress and urged members to pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. If passed, this bill would help to address the unacceptably high Black maternal mortality rate.
Violence against Black women isn’t just at the end of a fist or a gun. It’s the tragic, unnecessary loss of Dr. Shalon Irving. It’s Sha-Asia Washington and all the Black women who should still be alive and well. Black women are more than statistics. Mattering is the minimum, and one preventable death is too many. Complete medical equity is the only acceptable standard.
Want to learn more and get involved? Here are a couple resources to get you started.