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Racial health disparities are pervasive but not inevitable

A licensed practical nurse administers a COVID 19 vaccine shot
Jesse Costa
A licensed practical nurse administers a COVID 19 vaccine shot

When it comes to diabetes, heart disease, kidneys, hypertension, the Centers for Disease control reports that historically, the Black community faces far higher rates of poor outcomes and death than any other race.

Over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought these racial inequities in healthcare to the forefront. One CDC study reported that 34% of COVID deaths were among non-Hispanic Black people, even though this group accounts for only 12% of the total U.S. population. During February’s Black History Month, with the theme of Black health and wellness, there’s a focus on the historic legacy of social, economic and environmental inequities, such as racism embedded in societal institutions resulting in poor health.

Another prominent, glaring disparity in health outcomes is between Black and white women when it comes to pregnancy and giving birth. Nationwide Black women are more likely to have comorbidities, complications, and to die in pregnancy and childbirth than any other demographic. In Massachusetts, Black women are about twice as likely as white women to experience pregnancy-related deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health. In Connecticut, the DPH says Black women are 2.6 times as likely as white women to die within six weeks of childbirth.

One solution in play is providing African Americans with better access to quality care. Tiffany Donelson, president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation suggests that is something this population has been historically and systematically denied.

“The historical context by which we live has created an environment where people of color are economically disadvantaged…related to education, housing and other critical resources that impact all of our health,”Donelson told And Another Thing.  

Misunderstanding people of color can begin early in the careers of many health care professionals. That’s why Dr. Jennifer Bradford, a family physician with UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, says it makes sense for Black patients to prefer a {doctor who looks like them.”

Historically the number of Black doctors in the United States is low, and those numbers have not improved greatly in recent years. The Census Bureau reports that in 2018, about 13% of the U.S. population was Black, but only 5.4% of physicians were Black. But there is one trend moving in a positive direction. Tufts Medical School in Boston reports it has tripled the number of Black admissions this past year. Overall, American medical schools are reporting an increase of more than 20% of Black first year students from a year ago.


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