Author Archives: Margarita Martín-Hidalgo Birnbaum

About Margarita Martín-Hidalgo Birnbaum

Margarita Martín-Hidalgo Birnbaum (@mbirnbaumnews) is AHCJ's Health Equity Core Topic Leader. An independent journalist who has covered health disparities, Birnbaum’s stories have been published by American Heart Association News and WebMD.

New baby formula shortage tip sheet spotlights health and economic disparities

Photo by Lucy Wolski via Unsplash.

By the end of this month, the U.S. baby formula shortage — caused in part by the shutdown of an Abbott plant due to contamination concerns — will have affected millions of families for a quarter of the year. Although the announcement that production has restarted at the closed plant may be a light at the end of the tunnel for desperate parents and caregivers, the crisis continues  to highlight disparities in maternal and infant health.

For starters, socioeconomic factors and geography affect access to basic nutrition. These stories from The Washington Post and the The 19th are among articles that explain why low-income families, particularly those living in rural areas, have been hit hardest by the food supply scarcity. 

Beyond the supply chain delays that may impact less populated parts of the country, cash-strapped American parents and caregivers in those areas may feel the pain of the crisis harder because they purchase formula through government assistance programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC.  

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How to the tell the story of nurses of color experiencing racism at work

Nada Hassanein (Photo courtesy of Alicia Devine)

When Nada Hassanein read the press release about a survey that shed light on racism nurses of color are enduring in the workplace, she seized the opportunity to write a story to give real-world context to the findings. In telling the story, the environmental and health inequities reporter for USA Today, said she wanted to “weave [the survey results] into a kind of narrative about nurses’ experiences.”

In this “How I Did It,” Hassanein shares her reporting process for the story, talks about why leaning heavily on data may matter more for some stories over others, and offers tips for cultivating and building the trust that allows sources to open up about painful experiences.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

You get this press release and decide that there’s a bigger story here other than the survey. What was your next step? How did you find the sources for the story?

First, I asked the [National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing] if someone from the Commission — a nurse of color — would be willing to talk with me. And that nurse connected me with other nurses that are not part of the Commission.

How hard was it for nurses to be candid about their experiences?

The nurses I spoke with were quite open and candid about their experiences. I think they felt that someone was listening and, therefore, were willing to share their experiences.

How did you weave in context about the profession? 

I found demographic breakdowns of nursing staff or registered nurses in certain states to show how they are minorities or underrepresented. Being a health reporter, I see a lot of discussion about racism among physicians and residents but less so about nurses.

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With Roe likely in its final days, experts say reporters should sharpen focus on abortion as a health issue

Photo by Erica TricaricoSophie Novack (on the left) and Crystal S. Berry-Roberts, M.D. (on the right)

Pregnancy is a medical condition and abortion is an intervention for it, so journalists writing about the topic should take the same approach they would when writing about cancer, diabetes, and other conditions and treatments: focus on mortality risks, patients’ rights to care and bodily autonomy.

Reporters should also step up their game to explain what the medical community has known for decades: that abortion is a safe health care procedure.

These were among the topics covered by women’s reproductive health experts who participated in a round table discussion moderated by Brenda Goodman of CNN Health, about abortion on Saturday, April 30, at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin. The conversation took place two days before what appeared to be a leak of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Roe v. Wade was published by Politico. The opinion would overturn abortion protection under Roe v. Wade.

Check out the full transcript of the round table discussion.

The speakers at the “Women’s reproductive health in a post-Roe world” round table included Crystal S. Berry-Roberts, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist in Austin; Lisa Harris, M.D. Ph.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan; Sonja Miller, interim managing director for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance; and Sophie Novack, an independent journalist who has reported on the implications of Texas laws restricting abortions. Continue reading

The legacy of Dr. Paul Farmer: Health equity abroad — and at home

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University
Copyright: © President and Fellows of Harvard College

In the recent history of global public health, the late medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D., stands out among luminaries. Farmer was renowned for using novel strategies to treat and control infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS and Ebola in some of the poorest populations in the world. A celebrated humanitarian, Farmer was also admired for his unwavering devotion to economically depressed people vulnerable to preventable diseases in Haiti, Peru, Rwanda and other low-income countries with weak governmental infrastructure. 

Farmer, who died unexpectedly last month, was driven by the conviction that in impoverished populations, communicable diseases had more to do with social determinants of health than individual behavior. Certainly, he was not the first physician or academic to argue that disease had more to do with nonmedical factors that include deficient public health policies and racist and classist attitudes. Physicians, sociologists, and intellectuals influenced his brand of health care — including W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington — who have argued that poor health trends were linked to unsanitary housing conditions, unsafe workspaces, inadequate public infrastructure and the legacy of slavery. 

But Farmer stands out among those who shared his vision for his relentlessness. For almost 40 years, Farmer urged lawmakers, corporate titans, public health policymakers and others with the power to change social structures to improve roads, schools, and clean water distribution to give socially disadvantaged people the opportunity to live their healthiest lives. And the physician talked the talk and walked the walk: Partners in Health, the organization he helped co-found in the late 1980s, has worked with governments around the world to improve or build clinics, hospitals, sanitation systems and other public infrastructure in areas that have been historically underserved. 

Farmer died on Feb. 21 on the grounds of a hospital and medical university he helped establish in Butaro, Rwanda. Partners in Health said in a statement he had died in his sleep of an acute cardiac event. He was 62.

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Tips for reporting with media interpreters

Media interpreters are commonly associated with war coverage, but journalists globally also use them to tell stories about health and science. Reporting with those language professionals allows you to do two things: interview sources who may be overlooked and identify stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told. 

Given the expectations of transparency in journalism, reporters must learn how to work with them to protect the integrity of information they gather. Although interpreters are expected to follow high standards of accuracy and impartiality that journalists are familiar with, there are ground rules that deal with confidentiality and source relationships that they may not be as aware of. Similarly, journalists who hire interpreters for interviews may have inappropriate expectations that include assuming the responsibilities of drivers or fixers. 

In this new tip sheet, a science writer and seasoned interpreters share practical advice and insights about reporting with language professionals. There are also suggestions for vetting interpreters that are particularly useful if you’ve never worked with one. 

Here are a few examples of stories that would warrant hiring an interpreter:

  •  The federal government’s website to order free at-home COVID-19 testing kits only offers information in English, Spanish and Chinese. Why not French, Vietnamese and Creole? There are large populations of Vietnamese and Haitian Americans who may not be proficient in English and feel more comfortable communicating in their native languages. If you’re following up on that story, you could hire an interpreter to interview those sources. 

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