New York: Women and girls of African descent face a “systemic and historical pattern” of racial abuse in the health sector in countries across the world, leaving them at increased risk of death during childbirth, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency said on Wednesday.
“The scourge of racism continues for Black women and girls in the Americas, many of whom are descendants of the victims of enslavement,” Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), said in a news release.
“Too often, Afrodescendent women and girls are abused and mistreated, their needs are not taken seriously, and their families are shattered by the preventable death of a loved one during childbirth. Justice and equality will only be possible when our healthcare systems see these women and provide them with respectful, compassionate care.”
From abuse to denial of care
According to UNFPA, the mistreatment faced by Afrodescendent women when receiving health care ranges from verbal and physical abuse to denial of quality care and refusal of pain relief.
As a consequence, they face increased complications during pregnancy and delayed interventions, which too often result in death.
These findings are contained in the report Maternal Health of Women and Girls of African Descent in the Americas, developed in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization, the National Birth Equity Collaborative, and UN agencies UNICEF and UN-Women.
The report also noted that Afrodescendants experience disproportionate levels of mistreatment in health settings, some of which is based on unscientific, racist and slave-era beliefs still present in medical training practices.
Disparity ‘most extreme’ in the US
According to the report, the disparity is most extreme in the United States, where Black women and girls are three times more likely to die while giving birth or within six weeks of giving birth compared to non-Afrodescendent and non-Hispanic women.
Maternal deaths also persist regardless of income and education levels, with maternal deaths among African American college graduates still 1.6 times higher than among white women with less than a high school diploma.
In the wider Americas region, where are there are an estimated 209 million people of African descent, only 11 out of 35 countries collect maternal health data broken down by race.
Call to address racist ideology
To address the situation and save lives, UNFPA urged governments to collect and analyze robust health data broken down by race and ethnicity.
It also called on medical schools to address racist ideology in training curricula and calls on hospitals to establish policies to end physical and verbal abuse damaging Afrodescendent women and girls.