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When it comes to health, if you look at every major outcome—high blood pressure, reproductive cancers, death during pregnancy—Black women are doing worse than most groups.
“Unless we start thinking about different ways to approach health care for Black women, we will never improve these outcomes,” says Jessica Opoku-Anane, MD.
The research is not new. The COVID pandemic highlighted, and helped start new conversations about, inequities in the health care system. “There are real stereotypes and implicit bias,” says Opoku-Anane. “We’re doing better, but it’s a social, systemic problem.”
We’re talking about Black women’s health now because systemic racism impacts health care and we want to do everything we can to create better outcomes.
Women’s health is under-addressed, and under-studied in clinical trials, because of under-funding. And that’s true for minority populations to a greater degree. Recognizing the importance of women’s health will help this to change.
Further, say Opoku-Anane, when it comes to helping Black women get the health care they need and deserve, the first step is to listen and believe what they are saying about their bodies and symptoms. “Black women are not always listened to, and not always believed. Believing them helps us move forward,” says Opoku-Anane.
“I know the term “black girl magic” was meant to celebrate the power and resilience of Black women but it creates unrealistic expectations,” says Opoku-Anane. “You have to be superhuman to tolerate all the socioeconomic stressors and pressure of systemic racism and still make magic happen.”
On top of work and family stressors, Black women fight stereotypes daily. Every day. And it’s incredibly stressful. This can prevent people from realizing their full potential. “Black women need to know it’s okay to be vulnerable,” says Opoku-Anane. “Being vulnerable does not make you weak. Taking care of yourself is important.”
Jessica Opoku-Anane, MD, is a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon and an assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She is a specialist in the treatment of uterine fibroids, menstrual disorders, endometriosis and pelvic pain, ovarian pathology, intrauterine scarring (Asherman’s), alternatives to hysterectomy, and advanced gynecologic surgery. She has a longstanding interest in global health, and spent extended periods of time throughout Africa on clinical and research programs. She is also a fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and a member of the American Association of Laparoscopic Gynecologists and the World Endometriosis Society.
Why Black women's health is important (video) – Columbia University Irving Medical Center
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