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A developed country has certain aspects that qualify it being called one. Infrastructure is developed, food is secure and in abundance, education and healthcare are exemplary, its accessibility easy, life expectancy is high, with low rates of maternal, infant and child mortality; a stability that doesn’t threaten, persecute without reason or harm its people. The United States is known to be a developed nation and considered one of the superpowers of the world due to its successful economy. However, how can this nation be considered developed, when its maternal mortality rates are comparable to low-income countries such as Uzbekistan, a poverty-stricken region (Roeder, 2019)? It’s saddening, especially since the most affected population of this trend are African American women, who are more likely to die during or after childbirth compared to non-Hispanic white women. This highlights a huge disparity and a significant health inequity between groups in America that have the access for the same healthcare services. Black women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth, due to causes that are preventable such as hemorrhages, hypertension, diabetes, etc. (National Partneship for Women & Families, 2018).
The access to healthcare is only a small proportion of the problem. Socioeconomic status isn’t as significant as people may think in addressing this disparity, either. Prominent and successful tennis player Serena Williams experienced a pain in her lungs postpartum. The nurse didn’t believe her at first and stated that the medication had her confused (Roeder, 2019). After insisting, she was provided with a lung CT and several blood clots were found (Roeder, 2019). She was then provided with heparin, but it only got worse. Severe coughing opened her c-section scar, and surgeons revealed a hemorrhage (Roeder, 2019). Superstar Beyoncé experienced preeclampsia, a disease mostly prominent in African American mothers, that if left untreated, can kill the mother and baby, postpartum (Roeder, 2019). These two famous and wealthy women are examples of the fact that socioeconomic status isn’t a huge factor in determining why black maternal health is declining. These women can afford the highest level of care, tended by the most intelligent healthcare providers in America, yet they still experienced deadly complications the average non-black women do not experience with pregnancy and childbirth (Roeder, 2019). If both of these accomplished women acquired such a health loss, then it can happen to any African American woman, regardless of status and income.
The root of the problem is what is considered “weathering”, “meaning [African American women’s] bodies age faster than white women’s due to exposure to chronic stress linked to socioeconomic disadvantage and discrimination over the life course, thus making pregnancy riskier at an earlier age” (National Partneship for Women & Families, 2018). African American women are very much disadvantaged; a lifespan of systemic racism, like witnessing or experiencing stressful racial ordeals such as police brutality, negligence, profiling, and disrespect, can train the person to be on edge all the time, even during pregnancy. “The third wave of the Listening to Mothers survey, a national U.S. survey of women's childbearing experiences, revealed that about one in five Black and Hispanic women reported poor treatment from hospital staff due to their race, ethnicity, cultural background, and/or language (Adams & Thomas, 2017)”. Healthcare professionals were reported to lack trust in African American women, not taking them seriously enough when complained to. This is crucial because their health is threatened and can lead to negligence that can cause preventable fatal diseases. Not being taken seriously enough leads to delayed treatments from providers as well. According to Arline Geronimus, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, African women were seen as props rather than patients to these providers (Roeder, 2019).
There are solutions to reducing and even eradicating this health disparity. Patient centered care must be responsive to the needs of Black women. Every group has individualized needs and providers must tend to them, even their social needs (Adams & Thomas, 2017). Policies should be put in place to reeducate these providers in cultural competency so that chances for cultural biases and discrimination are slim. An increase in the diversity of the health workforce will make a great impact, as well as holding providers and hospitals accountable when they fail to deliver unbiased, high quality care (Adams & Thomas, 2017). Group prenatal care programs should be present in more areas to address the high mortality rate in the U.S. These groups educate pregnant women in healthcare utilization, greater levels of engagement in care, realization of their rights in healthcare and the importance of social support (Adams & Thomas, 2017). Social support is shown to help reduce stress levels induced by society “among pregnant women and provide them with a more positive pregnancy experience (Adams & Thomas, 2017)”.
- Adams, C., & Thomas, S. P. (2017). Alternative prenatal care interventions to alleviate Black–White maternal/infant health disparities. Social Compass.
- MacKay, A. P., & Berg, C. J. (2001). Pregnancy-related mortality from preeclampsia and eclampsia. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 533-538.
- National Partneship for Women & Families. (2018). Black Women's Maternal Health:A Multifaceted Approach to Addressing Persistent and Dire Health Disparities . Washington.
- Roeder, A. (2019, Winter). America Is Failing its Black Mothers. Retrieved from Harvard Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/america-is-failing-its-black-mothers/
- Tucker, M. J., & Berg, C. J. (2007). The Black–White Disparity in Pregnancy-Related Mortality From 5 Conditions: Differences in Prevalence and Case-Fatality Rates. American Journal of Public Health, 247-251.
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