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  • Elizabeth Teleisha

Racial Disparities in the Healthcare System

Although continuous advancements have been made in medical care in our world today, there still prove to be major disparities in healthcare between white women and non-white women. Especially after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, more and more women of color are having a harder time receiving the treatment that they deserve.

One of the major problems leading to this issue is African American women’s distrust of healthcare systems due to their egregious past treatment. This struggle began with discriminatory healthcare practices from slavery to the post Civil-Rights era. The blatant racism and maltreatment that they faced, such as medical experimentation, high premature mortality rates, and facing a heightened risk for extreme breast cancer, would lead them to continue to distrust the systems that are supposed to help them.

Recent questioning has also been done to try to determine whether or not African American women’s past experiences have an effect on their health, primarily reproductive health. A 2018 study by Health Equity determined that Black women’s experiences of consistent racism, unemployment, poverty, and residential segregation, may lead them to have more sexual and reproductive health issues compared to white women who have never had to face these challenges. It is believed that the institutionalized societal racism and challenges that Black women face on a day to day basis coupled with fear of the healthcare system and persistent racism present also contribute to these problems.

These dreadful circumstances have lasting effects on these women. Black women are three to four times as likely to die in pregnancy than white women and more than five times as likely to die in pregnancy as a result of cardiomyopathy or blood pressure disorders. Reaching menopause more than a half year earlier than white women, Black women experience more pain and symptoms. They also have a more difficult time accessing reproductive care to meet their needs, leading to a higher number of unintended pregnancies (as they face disparities in access to contraceptive care and counseling). Involved in access to reproductive care, African American women have a limited access to abortion. The list of disparities and its effects could go on and on, and it is clear that something needs to be done about this.

Efforts have been made to fix this issue, such as the Healthcare Disparities Report and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee also instituted the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, which is trying to implement a federal government bill to create an anti-racist health policy. Although these actions and more have made headway, it is still not enough.

In order to figure out a way to fix this problem completely, various studies have agreed upon the institution of new models and strategies designed to help African American women’s healthcare. The problem will continue to persist unless we as a society dedicate programs to bettering the healthcare system itself and to understanding the viewpoints of Black women and their experiences, listening to their needs and helping them through the racism that they face in society. We must help the source of the problem directly, as indirect solutions prove to be ineffective. We must also try to understand the experiences that Black women face, and how racism and maltreatment can affect them in all aspects of life. A program is needed that addresses these issues and provides a safe space for them to access the healthcare that they deserve.

As a healthcare system, it is essential to recognize bias in themselves and in their office, address patient concerns, and provide all patients with respect.

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