Women and girls of African descent face a “systemic and historical pattern” of racial abuse (Racism) in the health sector in countries across the world, leaving them at increased risk of death during childbirth.
The mistreatment experienced by Afro descendent women in healthcare spans from verbal and physical abuse to the denial of quality care and the refusal of pain relief, said a new report by the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.
The report, titled “Maternal Health of Women and Girls of African Descent in the Americas,” was developed in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization, the National Birth Equity Collaborative, UNICEF, and UN-Women. It also highlights the disproportionate levels of mistreatment experienced by Afro descendants in healthcare settings, some of which stem from unscientific, racist, and outdated beliefs rooted in historical practices.
UNFPA sheds light on the systemic and historical pattern of racial abuse faced by women and girls of African descent in healthcare systems worldwide. This mistreatment places them at a higher risk of death during childbirth. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, highlighted the enduring scourge of racism faced by Black women and girls in the Americas, many of whom are descendants of slavery victims. She emphasized the need for healthcare systems to recognize and provide respectful, compassionate care to these women in order to achieve justice and equality.
The mistreatment experienced by Afro descendent women in healthcare spans from verbal and physical abuse to the denial of quality care and the refusal of pain relief. As a result, they encounter increased complications during pregnancy and face delayed interventions, leading to preventable deaths all too often.
The report identifies the United States as the country with the most extreme disparity, where Black women and girls are three times more likely to die during childbirth or within six weeks postpartum compared to non-Afro descendent and non-Hispanic women. This discrepancy persists 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.
Furthermore, the report reveals that out of the estimated 209 million people of African descent in the wider Americas region, only 11 out of 35 countries collect maternal health data disaggregated by race.
To address this urgent issue and save lives, UNFPA calls on governments to collect and analyze comprehensive health data that is broken down by race and ethnicity. It also urges medical schools to confront and eliminate racist ideologies within training curricula and hospitals to establish policies that eradicate physical and verbal abuse, which significantly harm Afro descendent women and girls.