CINCINNATI — Disparities in Black women’s health have been documented for decades, but the recent spread of COVID-19 has brought those health issues into the spotlight even more.
“There’s a lot of disparities. A lot of it is economic,” said Estrelita Dixon, associate professor of internal medicine at UC Health. “There’s not a lot of resources that are not necessarily available in some Black communities.”
Dixon said racism has also contributed to these disparities. In June, Hamilton County commissioners declared racism a public health crisis.
“I think that racism itself drives a lot of negative health problems that go on in the community,” Dixon said. “Having safe communities to walk in to be able to exercise. There are food deserts that occur in a number of communities where they don’t have access to fresh produce.”
In this time, when racism and a public health crisis have converged, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown has decided to address this minority health gap on a local level.
“(I am) deeply concerned about the rising rates of Black maternal mortality and all the disparities in health that Black women have faced through our nation’s history,” Brown said.
Brown’s office is hosting its first Black women’s health symposium on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3. The workshop will feature health experts and community advocates, all of whom will focus on Black women’s health.
“This symposium is the beginning of conversation and dialogue around many expertise across the state with the goal of this movement to work together in order for us to move the needle,” said Renee Mahaffey Harris, president of Center for Closing the Health Gap. “Maternal (mortality) rates for Black women are three times the rate of white women. That’s like a rate of 42% vs 13% for white women.”
At the symposium, women can share ideas, concerns and areas they would like to focus on to improve Black women’s health. Harris said the goal is facilitating an infrastructure where women will have resources that are designed by them and for them.
Dixon said Black women’s health should be a particular focus because many are managing the health of their entire families.
“By focusing on Black women, I think it helps the broader community for their health,” Dixon said.
She said this was even more apparent with the spread of coronavirus. Dixon said many Black women are frontline workers and are employed in hospitals, day cares and nursing homes.
“Unfortunately, a lot of Black people in general, Black women, know someone who’s been directly impacted by (COVID-19),” Dixon said. “They may have had family members or friends who have been hospitalized with it or have died.”
Although the symposium is a start, Dixon said the broader issues of Black women’s health will take a long time to address.
“This is going to be something that happens over weeks, months, years,” she said.