Minority Health Month

How Changing Healthcare and Honoring Tradition Delivers Better Outcomes.

April is National Minority Health Month, which raises awareness about racial and ethnic health care disparities and advances in health equity. But minority health isn’t solely about disparities. It’s also about traditions, dedication and success stories we can all learn from.

It’s a known fact that minority women generally have worse maternal health outcomes than Caucasian women.

  • African-American women are 3–4 times as likely to die a maternal death than white women
  • 25% of women in the US don’t receive adequate prenatal care. This figure rises to 32% for African American women and 41% for American Indian and Alaska Native women
  • Between 2006–2010, the maternal mortality ratios were 11.7 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women, 36.4 for black women, and 17.7 for women of other races
  • 2% of Mexican origin women 20 years and over who are obese

These statistics beg the question: Is it that these women are minorities that causes complications or the way we deliver healthcare to minorities?

Jennie Joseph, founder of Commonsense Childbirth and the JJWay — an effective prenatal care program that markedly reduces low-birth-rate and preterm births among the at-risk women she works with (mostly African Americans and Hispanics) says, “We know inequities exist and our current healthcare model isn’t doing enough to reach mothers who face challenges commonly associated with women of color. The frustrations and red tape they deal with are ridiculous, and the resulting delays and barriers to accessing care manifest in burgeoning medical risks and longer-term harms. But we also know, when these same mothers are treated with respect and compassion and given the education they need, their outcomes are excellent. When they can access prenatal healthcare right from the start, when insurance and financial conditions aren’t turned into stumbling blocks and when providers acknowledge the need for cultural humility in delivery of such care — their births are lovely and their babies are healthy. It’s not so much a problem with the women themselves but rather with the way our healthcare system is set up. Until we change that we’ll continue seeing the disheartening and embarrassing racial disparities that plague our communities.”

Dr. Yolanda Chávez Padilla is Professor of Social Work and Women’s Studies at The University of Texas who’s written about the Latina Prenatal and Birthing Experiences in the US Healthcare System. Padilla says the more recent a woman’s immigration, the healthier she is. “First generation Mexican-Americans face a higher prevalence of risk factors that generally correlate with poor maternal health outcomes, including anemia, cardiac disease, and hypertension. They face language and cultural barriers and some face education and economic challenges when they access the U.S. health system and still, in their first and second generations here in the US, these mothers do very well. In fact, their outcomes are on par with those of non-Hispanic whites.” Padilla credits these great outcomes with strong support networks, less smoking, alcohol and chemical use, and healthy eating habits.” She says, “This is consistent throughout most immigrant populations. Unfortunately, by the time we get to the third generation, we don’t see the same strong outcomes and that’s where disparities add up.”

Among the traditions some Mexican-Americans observe that may contribute to healthy outcomes is “La Cuarentina” — the 40-day recovery period following birth.

Padilla says, “It’s really about the mom, more than the baby, to encourage her to take care of herself by eating right, resting and avoiding extra activities. In some families, she’s not even supposed to drive. There’s an environment created around the mother that’s special and nurturing. I’m the child of an immigrant so I did my own version of the cuarentina. I wanted ice cream so I hopped in the car and got some.“

Throughout all minority communities, cultural practices support women during what’s universally considered one of the most important times of their lives. When traditions are honored in tandem with high-quality maternal healthcare, excellent outcomes are possible.

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