A Look at How the US Healthcare System Has Mistreated Black Women

The maternal mortality rate in the United States has risen drastically over the years and has disproportionately affected Black women.

The overall maternal mortality rate in the U.S. in 2020 reached 23.8 deaths per 100,000 births, which is a huge spike from the 9.8 deaths in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The maternal mortality rate is higher for Black women than it is for non-Black women. In 2019, there were 44 deaths for every 100,000 births and in 2020, that rose to 55.3 deaths.

The new Hulu documentary “Aftershock,” which centers around the stories of two Black women who died due to pregnancy complications as told by their families, has brought attention to this issue.

Both women, 30-year-old Shamony Makeba Gibson and 26-year-old Amber Isaac Rose, had caesarian (C-section) births. Gibson died two weeks after giving birth to her second child from a blood clot and Isaac from blood loss during an unscheduled emergency C-section. Both women told doctors about their symptoms and were told to rest.

Racial Bias in Healthcare

Dr. Sonja Wiley, Associate Professor and Diversity Advisor in the Office of Business Student Success at Louisiana State University, suffered from extreme pain after having a miscarriage due to endometriosis, which she didn’t know she had for years. She wasn’t given proper pain medication because “Black women are just notoriously, historically stronger,” she said, as is too often thought by medical professionals.

She said she waited until later in life to have children and experienced infertility issues, and when she went to the doctor with her husband to get a diagnosis, they didn’t take her seriously when she said she was having trouble getting pregnant.

“I wasn’t taken seriously at all,” she said. “A doctor told me I just wasn’t having sex right.”

When she was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis, she said she didn’t know what it was.

“No healthcare practitioner had ever educated me or talked to me to tell me that endometriosis affects fertility,” she said. “So being 34 years old before deciding to have children, my endometriosis had just wreaked havoc on my reproductive system.”

Addressing Racial Bias in Healthcare

The racism and lack of care for Black people in the healthcare system has to do with doctors and nurses not understanding the diverse cultural needs of the people that they serve, Dr. Wiley said.

“African Americans speak differently about their pain, so do Latin Americans, so do Asian Americans,” she said. “When you have a nurse, a nurse practitioner or a physician that is not well-versed in our cultural differences, our idioms, how we talk and how we present pain, then we are treated differently.”

Solving this problem comes down to educating healthcare professionals on how to understand these needs.

“I am a huge proponent of diversity, equity and inclusion education for all healthcare providers and an advocate for healthcare organizations partnering with community-based organizations, social organizations, sororities, fraternities, churches, in order to enhance our healthcare,” she said. “Because if we don’t do it at the individual level and at the community level, then we will continue as diverse people to be to have the poorest health in the United States.”

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