Our nation is in a period of reckoning. Now, more than ever before, people across the country recognize that health disparities are harming many communities and holding our nation back from achieving optimal health. At March of Dimes, we seek to achieve birth equity by helping all moms and babies have the opportunity to attain good health and a safe birth. To do that, we must address the wide disparities we see.
As the America’s Health Rankings Health Disparities Report highlights, there are large, persistent disparities in maternal mortality and infant mortality across racial groups. For example, infant mortality is nearly 3 times higher among Black babies than among Asian/Pacific Islander babies. But we also see additional disparities layered on top of those, based on geography, education, income and other factors. The root causes of poor outcomes for these groups range from food insecurity to housing, transportation, access to health care and clean air and water. Further, historic and contemporary racial and gender discrimination can have dire health consequences for mothers and babies. It is a complex and daunting challenge.
To make a difference, we need evidence-based solutions. That is why the America’s Health Rankings Health Disparities Report is so important. By collecting and analyzing a broad set of data, this report creates a meaningful picture for policymakers and public health leaders to draw from.
Leaning on this data, a cross-cutting societal response is needed to effectively address the layered causes of health disparities. This includes advancing programs and policies that reach and support certain populations including paid family leave, quality prenatal care and access to housing and transportation. We also must address implicit bias in the health care system and ensure we have a culturally competent health care work force.
The health care community can’t undertake this effort alone — we need experts in housing, education, nutrition and many other fields to be involved. And we must engage diverse communities by drawing on the expertise and experiences of leaders from historically underrepresented communities. As a physician, I recognize that these efforts cannot be contained within the four walls of my office, and I challenge myself to think beyond my medical training to better understand the communities in need and to allow the data to guide my work.
Every baby deserves the same chance to have a strong start in life. I am very optimistic that with a data-driven, inter-disciplinary approach, we can give every mom and baby the chance to survive and thrive.