Several studies have examined the health disparities experienced by Black Americans. A comprehensive recent study by the Associated Press explored health care received by Black Americans, and one of its findings involving the fatality rate experienced by pregnant Black women was disheartening. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are preventable.
The Associated Press study
The Associated press study concluded that:
- Black mothers are three times more likely to die during pregnancy or delivery than White mothers, with 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021.
- 8% of the childbirths involving Black mothers were preterm, and Black babies are also more likely to die or be born prematurely than White babies, which can cause developmental or other health issues that follow them throughout their lives.
- 36.8% of Black mothers give birth via caesarian section, which is a riskier procedure than natural childbirth and can result in more errors.
The AP study has determined that institutional racism may be to blame for these findings. Historically Black neighborhoods traditionally are underserved and have less access to high quality healthcare. This can result in worse outcomes for Black individuals, including mothers and babies.
How some medical professionals treat Black women
The AP story recounted the experience of a Black female teacher at the University of Alabama and the challenges she faced during pregnancy and thereafter. The most common problem she experienced was that medical professionals treating her did not recognize the severity of the complications she was having and her reported symptoms during her pregnancy. The issues she reported included:
- Medical staff repeatedly concluded she was a drug user despite the fact that she was not.
- Medical staff discounted her symptoms of sepsis and instead believed she was unhealthy due to poor lifestyle choices.
- Medical staff did not believe what she reported to them, which resulted in a delay in her diagnosis.
Change is on the horizon
Many medical schools have made changes to their curricula in response to race-based care revelations. They now train students to listen, be empathetic and not judge patients who are minorities. However, the problem of racism in medical care continues to affect many Black patients and can result in avoidable and preventable medical errors.