Black women are 25 times more likely than White women to be infected with HIV/AIDS, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are twice as likely to be overweight, have heart attacks, develop diabetes (high blood sugar), lupus, and hepatitis C. They also have a significantly higher risk of asthma, arthritis, cancer and the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia.
Experts say these disparities start when Black women don’t get adequate health screenings. Only 75 percent of African American women seek prenatal care, compared to 89 percent of White women. Only 7 percent of Black women with depression get treatment, compared to 20 percent of other patients with depression.
Complicating the problems also seems to lie in the fact that Black women are underrepresented among physicians and medical research subjects.
Too often, the health disparities affecting African American women lead to tragic and untimely death. A Black woman is less likely to get breast cancer than a White woman, but more likely to die from it. She has a threefold risk of dying during pregnancy and a significantly greater chance of dying from heart disease, diabetes and cervical cancer.
Overall, research finds that doctors are more likely to discriminate against Black female patients who are seeking pain management. This discrimination is compounded for Black women, as we are less likely than men to receive adequate pain management for chronic diseases like fibromyalgia. In an article from the New York Times, Laurie Edwards, author of In the Kingdom of the Sick, argues that women are sent to therapists, instead of receiving pain management therapy or medications in large part because they are frequently assumed to be “overly emotional” and “hysterical” by emergency room doctors.
Here’s another strange point I discovered, Black doctors were just as likely as White doctors to withhold the procedures from female Black patients, which means that doctors of color might be racists, too. Even stranger, there are several studies that found death rates among Black women were actually lower and lead to some debate if Black women were genetically superior to Whites despite subpar care.
Of course, compassionate and individualized care is important. Education among Black women must increase and so must the social awareness across all socioeconomic levels. But to some extent, these statistics still cut into the notion that minority women just need special kinds of communication or culturally sensitive care to bridge the treatment gap. Without doctors, care plans, treatment awareness and education, these rates will only increase and the decline of health and even family growth among Black families will continue to decline.