Black History Month is an important time to reflect and celebrate the rich contributions of Black individuals to society. It is also a time to shed light on persistent challenges, such as health disparities within the Black community. Let’s look closer at the health inequities faced by Black individuals: focusing on heart issues, weight gain, diabetes, the underrepresentation of Black and Brown healthcare professionals, transgender healthcare concerns, infant mortality, mental health, and the barriers to accessing healthcare resources.

Health Disparities among Black Women:

Black women experience heart issues, weight gain, and diabetes disproportionately. According to the CDC, the leading cause of death in Black women is heart disease, followed by cancer, stroke and diabetes. The complex interplay of socio-economic factors, systemic biases, and inadequate healthcare infrastructure contribute to these challenges.

Under representation of Black & Brown Doctors:

There is a shortage of Black and Brown doctors in primary care and specialty fields. According to Bouye et al, with the CDC, “There is a great need for more intentional efforts to recruit public health and healthcare professionals from populations most adversely affected by health disparities.” Establishing a connection with healthcare professionals on a personal and cultural level is pivotal for trust and effective communication. The absence of this connection can result in patients avoiding preventative care, leading to misdiagnosis and a lack of empathy during treatment.

Transgender Healthcare Disparities:

Transgender individuals, particularly transwomen of color, face unique challenges in accessing healthcare and support for transitioning. According to the CDC, “many transgender women of color . . . have reported being victims of harassment and violence, even in health care settings. Given these challenges, transgender people, especially transgender women of color, may delay seeking medical care because of fear or actual experience of negative treatment by health care staff.” Existing biases and governance issues can pose life-threatening consequences for this community, highlighting the urgent need for inclusivity in healthcare policies and practices.

Maternal and Infant Mortality:

Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth, according to the CDC, as quoted in this Associated Press article.  Medical, systemic racism is a pervasive issue affecting Black women and pregnant people during pregnancy and childbirth, leading to higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. The dismissal and mistreatment of Black women and pregnant folks seeking medical care underscore the need for systemic changes to ensure equitable access and respectful treatment.

Mental Health Disparities:

The unspoken mental health epidemic within the Black community is exacerbated by the pandemic and racial battle fatigue. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health tells us, “In 2020, suicide was the third leading cause of death, respectively, for blacks or African Americans, ages 15 to 24.” Toxic masculinity further compounds these challenges, discouraging open conversations about emotions and mental well-being among Black men.

Access to Knowledge and Resources:

Disparities in healthcare access also stem from a lack of knowledge and resources. Many individuals face barriers such as understanding insurance language, knowing which services are needed, or being unaware of available resources. Bridging this information gap is crucial for fostering health equity.

As we commemorate Black History Month, remember to also recognize and address the multifaceted health disparities within the Black community. To foster positive change, efforts must be made to increase diversity in the healthcare workforce, eliminate biases in medical practices, and ensure equitable access to healthcare resources. By tackling these issues head-on, we can work towards creating a healthcare system that truly serves all individuals, regardless of race, gender identity, or socio-economic background. Black History Month serves as a call to action, urging society to prioritize health equity for all.

Thank you to Madison Sconiers, HIV Prevention Advisory Board Member; Alexandra Gray, performer and activist; and Jacob Ferguson, student affairs professional; who contributed to this article.
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