In April of this year, Congresswomen Alma Adams (NC-12) and Lauren Underwood (IL-14) launched the Black Maternal Health Caucus in North Carolina. Over the last 30 years, the staggering statistics associated with maternal mortality in the United States and the rate of black women who ultimately die during or after child birth due to complications raises many unanswered questions and the need for an immediate response from Congress and the medical community. The impact of maternal and infant mortality in the black community is devastating and this vulnerable population cannot continue to be invisible.
The gift of life is wondrous, to grow a human inside your womb simply defines the miraculous abilities and physical strengths of mothers. To say that this experience is joyous and simultaneously overwhelming is an understatement. While the baby is in the belly, the mother is in control and provides safeguards and protection to her unborn child through her handling of everyday stressors, her body’s ability to supply the baby with nutrition to grow and develop, and of course her intrinsic love. Most would agree this protective state of pregnancy is innate, mothers are genetically wired to provide security and safety to her unborn child. Pregnancy should be uninterrupted, uninhibited, and a celebration of procreation—life’s most precious moment.
Procreating for black mothers has unfortunately become a traumatic experience, the joys and happiness surrounding pregnancy and delivery of a newborn are drowned out by alarming statistics as more black mothers lose their lives trying to bring their children into this world. Environmental stressors, delays in treatment, poor access to health care, and miseducation plague the black maternal community. There is a great divide and misalignment of health care resources creating tragic events for mothers and families as they try to welcome a new life in the world but are often faced with raising a child without a mother.
While there has been significant research done on the causes of maternal mortality, solutions for why the underlying factors of maternal mortality in black mothers is steadily increasing in a nation rich with health care facilities and experienced clinicians remain frustratingly elusive. Is the life of a black mother and black child not as important in this country? The devastation of loss in the black community is felt for generations as we are faced with raising children without their mothers. Although the child may be supported and surrounded by love from the father and extended family members, there are lingering feelings of abandonment and an emotional disconnect by not experiencing the love and care by the mother. The impact of maternal mortality in the black community has a clinical and psychological impact that will extend into the generations yet to come. The need is great to not only decrease this statistic but to preserve the sanctity of the black family for the future.
To close this critical gap in maternal health care, three major points of action should be taken into consideration, (1) develop a standardized model of obstetric patient-centered care that targets mandatory documentation of patient education, (2) provide transparency in the costs and fees associated with the continuum of care for obstetric patients, and (3) implement a national campaign for healthy moms and healthy babies to improve community awareness and collaboration with existing maternal health organizations. Such an investment not only has a direct effect on the health and wellness of mothers and their newborns, but also drives positive outcomes for the health care system.
Health is defined as the state of being free from illness or injury. Health is what keeps all individuals in a state of harmony and balance because when our health is good, we are good. However, the state of being free from illness or injury is not equal across all spectrums of the human species. Some of you may deal with health related issues on a daily basis, occasionally, or rarely. Despite your frequency, it’s doubtful time allows you to look up interesting facts and figures on this topic. For instance, did you know that black women have a shorter life expectancy than White women by 5 years, 50% higher all-cause mortality rates, and death rates from major causes such as heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases, and diabetes that are often 2 to 3 times higher than those for Caucasian women? Knowledge is power, so here are a few interesting facts and figures about the health of minority women that make you go hmmm.
Caucasian women are more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women. But African Ameri- can women are more likely to die of this cancer because their cancers are often diagnosed later and at an advanced stage when they are harder to treat and cure. There is also some question about whether African American women have more aggressive tumors.
African American women between the ages of 35-44, have an increased breast cancer death rate of more than twice the rate of White women in the same age group—20.02 deaths per 100,000 com- pared to 10.2 deaths per 100,000.
Black women develop high blood pressure earlier in life and have higher average blood pressures compared with white women. About 37 percent of black women have high blood pressure.
About 5.8% of all white women, 7.6% of black women, and 5.6% of Mexican American women have coronary heart disease.
A 2011 Journal of Women’s study indicated that 57 percent of Latina women, 40 percent of African American women, and 32 percent of white women had three or more risk factors for having a heart attack.
According to the article published by the Diabetes Sisters, the prevalence of diabetes is at least 2-4 times higher among African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, and Asian/Pacific Islander women than among white women.
One in four African American women over 55 years of age has diabetes.
In the United States, race once defined an individual’s level of freedom, including where they could enter, sit, and eat. Today, with African Americans at a higher risk than White Americans for obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, race also defines the quality of healthcare, making health disparities in African Americans the true silent killer.
Statistics from the American Heart Association and Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in African Americans. However, the link between race and health are obscured, and there is not much conversation dedicated to eliminating the socioeconomic and cultural barriers that make African Americans a target for death by disease.
So the question is what should we as healthcare professionals implement to address socioeconomic and cultural barriers that contribute to the healthcare disparities in African Americans and other minority populations? Should we continue to research different treatment regimens that can improve the overall health of African Americans and other minority groups? Or should we continue to educate these populations through traditional patient education? The Answer is No! In order for us to get something that we have never had, that means we have to do something that we have never done. The solution to this issue must extend beyond medicine, and instead be addressed by community leaders, community health providers, and minority healthcare professionals so race can be a category and not a barrier to quality healthcare.
There is undoubtedly a necessity to increase the level of cultural sensitivity among physicians, nurses, & other healthcare personnel; recognize unfavorable socioeconomic and cultural barriers as a preexisting condition; improve the community surrounding African Americans & other minority patients; and increase the number of minority healthcare workers. Implementing these actions will begin the process of closing the gap of socioeconomic and cultural barriers that contribute to the healthcare disparities in African Americans and other minority populations.
During the 2011 National Nurses Week, a week the American Nurses Association honors every year from National Nurses Day, May 6, to Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 11, four nursing students were given the opportunity to travel to Sierra Leone to work on a field mission for Mercy Ships.
Since 1978, Mercy Ships has delivered free health care and services to more than 70 countries in the developing world—taking their facilities and staff with them across the oceans on ships. The field mission welcomed four nursing students from Northwest University to prepare in Sierra Leone for the arrival of the largest non-government hospital ship in the world, with a crew of 450, the Africa Mercy.
From their campus near Seattle, Washington, the four students and their professor joined a team of 350 nurses from more than 40 countries who volunteer with Mercy Ships every year. Because Mercy Ships requires volunteer nurses to be registered nurses with at least two years of professional experience, the nursing students prepared on land for the ship’s arrival by gathering medical records for patients and testing day-workers from the local community, who volunteer on the ship, for tuberculosis. One future nurse says she left with an appreciation for the availability of health care in the United States; many of the people they helped in Sierra Leone do not have any hospitals nearby.
Mercy Ships has over 1,200 volunteers every year from a variety of professions, such as surgeons, dentists, cooks, and teachers. While surgical nurses volunteer for two weeks, patient care nurses can volunteer for eight weeks or longer. Students gained perspectives not normally absorbed from classroom lectures or even technical training.
Child obesity is more of a problem in the United States today than it was a decade ago. Now, Kids LiveWell, a program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining, is taking action. USA Today reported more than 15,000 restaurants are now representing healthy eating for kids. Chains such as Burger King, Chili’s, Friendly’s, and IHOP are now featuring kids’ meals that contain no more than 600 calories. USA Today states the lower-fat, lower-sodium meals must have an entrée, side dish, and beverage while still fulfilling the calorie and other nutritional requirements. You can find these healthy meal options with a designated red apple on the menu at participating locations.
Over time, the group hopes to recruit more restaurants to offer healthier kids’ meals, says Dawn Sweeney, President of the National Restaurant Association. There are plans to expand the program throughout the United States in upcoming weeks. Since children get about one-third of their calories from eating at fast food restaurants, having healthier options is very important, says Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The food kids fuel their bodies with at such a young age is going to effect them for the rest of their lives, so it is crucial to not get hooked on junk food.
Depending on the parents’ schedules, some kids eat fast food multiple times a week. Now, Kids LiveWell is making the circumstances a lot easier on families to eat healthily, says Wootan. The program seems to be having a big impact on most restaurant chains, as menus are being modified all over the United States.
To learn more about the Kids LiveWell program and find participating restaurants near you, visit www.healthydiningfinder.com!