Tuesday, May 15, 2007

the global nature of racism - Part I: Healthcare

As I do my daily dose of self-education about racism, I find so many similarities between institutional racism across the world. For example, just in the last two weeks, a number of news stories have come out about reports on inequities in health care for various groups of color in several countries.

For example, the Colorlines Magazine article I mentioned in an earlier post, discusses racial disparities in healthcare and the conscequences of "colorblind" policies on the health of people of color. The article includes such alarming statistics as:

- Blacks are dying at a 40 percent higher rate than whites &

- The infant mortality gap between Blacks and whites doubled between 1950 and 2002.

Though heavily edited by the Bush administration, the National Healthcare Disparities Report, cited in the Colorlines article, and released in 2002, reveals that "racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities are national problems that affect health care at all points in the process, at all sites of care, and for all medical conditions—in fact, disparities are pervasive in our health care system."

This according to Kai Wright, writing for Colorlines:

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report "rocked the healthcare world. Conventional wisdom had thus far been that racial health disparities were primarily due to access to care, that people of color got sick and died more often because they were more likely to be uninsured or underinsured.

But the IOM study asserted that much more was at play. It declared that even given the same insurance, the same income and the same type of treatment facility, people of color were less likely to receive quality care. The disturbing gap existed across a wide range of treatments-breast cancer screenings, angioplasties, hip fracture repairs, and on and on. Whites were even more likely to get an eye exam than nonwhites.

The IOM cited a host of complex and dynamic causes for this inequality. There were structural factors, such as financial incentives to limit services given to poor patients; communication factors like missing translators or English-only signage and literature; even factors driven by the patients themselves, whose own beliefs and preferences led them to refuse certain types of care or fail to follow doctors' instructions. But what grabbed everyone's attention was the IOM's charge that at least part of the disparity results from care providers making racist and stereotyped decisions about when and what treatment to offer." (emphasis mine)

Now compare this to a study that was just released last week, on May 8th in Australia, which found that "Aboriginal health in Australia was 100 years behind the rest of the population in quality."

"Leprosy, rheumatic heart disease and tuberculosis haven't been experienced in white populations for decades, but they are still problems for some indigenous communities," WHO researcher Lisa Jackson Pulver, quoted in a Reuters article, said.

(If you read the article, notice the unethical insertion of the journalist's/editor's bigoted opinion in the sentence describing the issue of governmental budget allocations needed to: "drag Aborigines off welfare.")

The Australian study found that "Australia's Aborigines live 17 years less on average than other Australians."

The article continutes:

"Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up two percent of the 20 million population. They have consistently been the nation's most disadvantaged group, with far higher rates of unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.

The report said Australia ranked last among first world countries New Zealand, Canada and the United States for life expectancy among indigenous people.

While Australia's Aborigines died nearly 20 years younger than other citizens, in other countries the figure was seven years. For infants, the mortality figure was three times the rate of non-indigenous Australians."

And, finally, compare this to yet another study, released last month regarding the access to health care for the Eastern and Southern European Roma ("Gypsy") population. The study states:

"For the millions of Roma living in Central and Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe, persistent discrimination and marginalization are a daily reality that results in poorer health for individuals and communities. Roma make up the largest ethnic minority in these countries with an overall population estimated at 5 to 6 million people. Available data consistently shows higher rates of illness and mortality among Roma than in majority populations."

These are some of the findings:

- Life expectancy for Roma populations in Eastern Europe is about 10 years less than the overall population.

- Infant mortality rates are twice as high among the Roma than the non-Roma in the Czech Republic (my country of birth!!!), Slovakia, and Hungary.

- It is widely agreed that TB, HIV/AIDS, and viral hepatitis disproportionately affect minority populations in Eastern and Central Europe. In a Serbian Roma community, the TB prevalence rate was found to be more than 2.5 times the national average.

And here is the pinnacle, for me, of the last study:

The disparities in healthcare are due to "direct discrimination by government policies" and health care providers. Sound familiar? The study states that "an overwhelming majority (95 percent) of the Roma women who had experienced gender discrimination also believed that health care professionals discriminate against Roma."

I have shared here the results of three different studies from three different continents. The U.S. study incorporated the health care disparities for a number of minority groups, though my quotes illustrated the impact of the disparities on African Americans. The other studies each focused on a single group - the Aborigines, or Native people of Australia, and the Roma, the largest ethnic minority in Europe, perceived as a "race" and racially discriminated against by many white Europeans.

What all these studies bring home is that institutional racism is real worldwide and that what ties these discriminatory practices together is institutionalized White Supremacy. That so much suffering happens worldwide at the hand of White Supremacy, is all ll the more reason to work on dismantling it.


Jennifer James said...

Congratulations on you blog. I wish you good luck with it and I hope you receive a huge following.

As a black woman, I already know that I won't be visiting doctors or hospitals unless I have one foot in the grave. When I was pregnant with my daughters I hated getting prenatal check-ups because I was treated with such racism. It wasn't overt, glaring racism, but it was racism nonetheless. I hated being treated like I was stupid. I hated being asked if I wanted my tubes tied and I was only 26. I hated being treated like I was poor and I wasn't. I hated being chastised for having concerns about (unnecessary) medication I was prescribed. For those reasons and others I haven't mentioned, I won't have anymore children because I don't want to go through it again and that's a shame. But that's the state of American health care.

Tereza said...

Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to comment and share your story on this blog. Reading about your experience brought tears to my eyes and then anger at the injustice you had to go through. No one should have to experience what you did.

I heard Loretta Ross, one of the organizers of the U.S. Social Forum, interviewed on the radio the other day. She was discussing her organization, SisterSong, "the only national coalition in the U.S. of women of color organizations and individuals working to ensure reproductive justice for communities of color." Have you heard of this organization? I am thrilled to have just recently come across them.

Here are some more details:

"Reproductive Justice, a new framework for activism originated by SisterSong based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asserts that all women have the human right to: 1) Have a child; 2) Not have a child; and 3) Parent our children in healthy and safe environments. Our human rights are challenged by neoliberal policies that promote population control strategies that lead to reproductive oppression such as restricting immigration, denying access to contraceptives and abortion, limiting scientifically-accurate sex education information, promoting dangerous contraceptives, and denying access to birthing options such as midwives."

SisterSong will be giving a workshop at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in June. I wish I could be there!