In April 2001, the National Minority Quality Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded to eliminate health disparities, launched National Minority Health Month. The next year, it received Congressional support in House Concurrent Resolution 388, which resolved that National Minority Health Month should be observed “to promote educational efforts on the health problems currently facing minorities and other health disparity populations.”
Income inequality is the most significant cause of racial and ethnic health disparities.
The term health disparity is a broad term that refers to preventable differences in health between segments of society as a result of unequal access to health care, underfunded schools (which result in lower health literacy), discrimination, or other disadvantages. Racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ individuals, and low-income socioeconomic groups are typically the focus of health disparities research. It’s a broad area of study, but to stay within the focus of this blog, a look at reproductive health among Arizona’s racial and ethnic minorities can be a good place to start.
As previously discussed, Arizona’s teen pregnancy rate is one of the highest in the United States, underscoring the need for better sex education. That high rate of teen pregnancy is seen especially among Arizona’s Latina, Native American, and black populations. Among Latinas, 43.5 per 1,000 become pregnant at age 19 or younger. For Native Americans, the rate is 34.7, and for blacks, the rate is 33.3 per 1,000. That’s compared to a rate for all racial and ethnic groups of 28 per 1,000.
Among pregnant women, both teen and adult, lower maternal health disproportionately affects Arizona’s racial and ethnic minorities. For example, pregnancy-associated hypertension and weight gain of less than 21 pounds during pregnancy are more common among blacks and Native Americans in Arizona. There is also significantly lower use of prenatal care among Latinas and Native Americans.
Black, Native American, and Latino/Latina Arizonans are disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as well, with higher rates of early syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, and HIV/AIDS than white Arizonans. The most significant difference is seen in the rate of chlamydia, which affects blacks at a rate of 926.9 per 100,000, Native Americans at a rate of 679.3, and Latinas/Latinos at a rate of 471.5. The rate for all racial and ethnic groups is 394.2 per 100,000, and for whites, it’s 156.3 per 100,000.
Although racial and ethnic health disparities have a number of causes, income inequality has been shown to be the most significant. In a state where 35 percent of the population belongs to a racial or ethnic minority group, and at a time when the wealth gap between whites and minorities has widened in the midst of an economic recession, addressing health disparities is critical. National Minority Health Month marks a time set aside to empower communities to address those disparities through education, prevention, and intervention. Planned Parenthood health centers are a resource for Arizona’s diverse communities, with staff available to talk about health matters and help individuals get the screening and treatment they may need.