In an ideal world, health would be a fundamental right, accessible and equitable for all, irrespective of one’s background, circumstances, or heritage. This utopian vision forms the core of what the World Health Organization defines as Health Equity—a concept that envisions the highest level of health attainable by every individual. At its heart, Health Equity acknowledges that the determinants of health encompass not only our basic biology and genetic makeup but also the intricate web of conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work, play, and age.
While the definition appears to cover every facet of Health Equity comprehensively, it prompts a perplexing question: Why, despite our ability to articulate it, do we struggle to realize Health Equity, not just on a global scale but also within the United States?
Commonwealth Fund’s Health Equity Findings
There are profound racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes and healthcare access. These disparities are particularly evident in states with inadequate access to care, substandard quality of care, unequal access to education, and poor health outcomes.
According to data gathered by The Commonwealth Fund, “profound racial and ethnic disparities in health and well-being have long been the norm in the United States.” Why is this so? According to their most recent findings in the State Scorecard on Health System Performance, healthcare systems are failing people of color in every state. Ethnicity and race seem to play the biggest role in states where there is less than adequate access to care, substandard quality of care, unequal access to education, and poor health outcomes in general.
Maternal Health Disparities and Serena Williams Case
When we hone in deeper on The Common Wealth Fund scorecard report, we see that women of color are particularly “more likely to die during or after pregnancy; and to suffer serious pregnancy-related complications; and more likely to lose children in infancy”.
An important subset are Black Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics/Latinx Americans, specifically. And while the state of Maternal Health in the United States in general is somewhat dismal, the fact that the prevalence of maternal death is increasing is more than alarming, particularly among these populations.
The maternity case of Serena Williams illustrates this inequity perfectly, one of the world’s most renowned and accomplished women’s tennis players became witness to the stark illustration of this issue. If we adhere to the World Health Organization’s definition of maternal death as “the demise of a woman during pregnancy or within 42 days of terminating pregnancy, irrespective of the duration or location of the pregnancy, stemming from any pregnancy-related cause or exacerbated by pregnancy management, excluding accidental or incidental factors“.
Despite experiencing a relatively trouble-free pregnancy leading to the birth of her daughter in 2017, Serena Williams found herself on the brink of death in the postpartum period due to a series of complications that emerged shortly after childbirth.
It is widely acknowledged, even by Serena herself, that had she not possessed her remarkable fame as a professional athlete, her complaints of abdominal pain and breathing difficulties might have been disregarded. In the end, she required emergency medical intervention to address life-threatening blood clots in both her lungs and abdomen.
While Serena Williams managed to survive a maternal health crisis that came perilously close to claiming her life, the unfortunate reality is that countless other African Americans and women of color do not.
As of 2021 the CDC states, the United States reported an overall maternal mortality rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. For Black and Hispanic women during the same year, this rate surged to a staggering 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.
This alarming disparity underscores the gravity of the situation. If someone of Serena’s stature, education, access to resources, and quality of care almost succumbed to these statistics, it is evident that these numbers are unacceptably high and continue to rise.
8 Actions You Can Take to Promote Health Equity
Promoting health equity is a collective effort, every individual can play a crucial role in contributing to positive change.
Here are eight actions that individuals can take to help improve health equity:
Educate Yourself: Start by learning about health disparities, social determinants of health, and the root causes of inequities in your community or society. Understanding the issues is the first step towards addressing them.
Support Diverse Voices: Listen to and amplify the voices of marginalized and underrepresented communities. Seek out diverse perspectives and engage in open dialogue to better understand their experiences and needs.
Advocate for Policy Change: Get involved in advocacy efforts to push for policies that promote health equity. This may include supporting legislation aimed at addressing systemic inequalities in healthcare, education, housing, and employment.
Vote with Equity in Mind: Use your voting power to support candidates and policies that prioritize health equity and social justice. Research candidates’ positions on healthcare access, education, and other social determinants of health.
Support Accessible Healthcare: Advocate for healthcare access for all, regardless of income, race, or background. Support initiatives that expand healthcare coverage and reduce barriers to care.
Promote Health Literacy: Help raise awareness about the importance of health literacy. Support initiatives that provide education on health topics, especially in underserved communities.
Support Minority-Owned Businesses: Promote economic opportunities in marginalized communities by supporting minority-owned businesses. Economic stability is a key determinant of health.
Be an Ally: Be an ally to marginalized communities by advocating for their rights and standing up against discrimination and injustice when you witness it.
Health equity, or rather health inequity, is a pressing issue. Despite boasting the world’s most costly healthcare system, the United States finds itself at the bottom of the list when compared to six other industrialized nations.
It’s difficult to navigate the troubling landscape of health disparities, where race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic factors continue to play an unsettlingly prominent role. Drawing upon data from The Commonwealth Fund, WHO, and the CDC, we uncovered the disconcerting truth that racial and ethnic disparities in health and well-being are deeply ingrained in the American healthcare system.
Women of color, in particular, bear the brunt of these disparities, facing higher rates of maternal mortality and pregnancy-related complications. Maternal and child health is a crucial aspect that requires urgent and comprehensive attention to prevent it from worsening.
Join us in taking action for health equity! Visit our Instagram page and let us know which of the 8 actions to promote health equity resonates with you and feels most achievable. Your commitment to making a positive change can inspire others to do the same.