Category Archives: Health equity

CMS announces plans to create a ‘Birthing-Friendly’ hospital designation

Photo by Lars Plougmann via Flickr.

The Biden administration plans to leverage the federal government’s clout as a major purchaser of health services to try to improve the quality of maternal care, with plans to create a new “Birthing-Friendly” hospital designation.

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“Many Tuskegees” occur daily in the U.S. 

Epidemiologist Dara Mendez, Ph.D., M.P.H., pediatrician Diane Rowley, M.D., epidemiologist Theresa Chapple-McGruder, Ph.D., and epidemiologist Bill Jenkins, Ph.D., who blew the whistle on the experiment at Tuskegee while working at the U.S. Public Health Service, gather at the 2017 meeting of the American Public Health Association. (Photo courtesy of Theresa Chapple)

When writing about the 50th anniversary of the revelation of the U.S. Public Health Service study at Tuskegee, I reached out to several Black health care professionals to ask for their perspectives on the study’s legacy a half-century later. Five women — an epidemiologist, two psychiatrists, a surgeon, and an HIV primary care physician — offered their insight. This post shares two of those perspectives, one focused on the man who blew the whistle on the experiment and the other on how the legacy of the experiment at Tuskegee is playing out with monkeypox.

Key takeaways

  • The whistleblower who ensured the world found out about the U.S. Public Health Service study at Tuskegee, Bill Jenkins, Ph.D., has also been a role model to Black epidemiologists in showing how to stand up to racism within the system.
  • Although the “Tuskegee study” is a convenient shorthand, it’s more appropriate and accurate to refer to the experiment as the ”U.S. Public Health Service study at Tuskegee” to keep the blame on the perpetrators rather than the victims.
  • The experiment at Tuskegee lives on in a collective memory of those in the Black community even when they don’t necessarily know the details of the specific study.
  • The distrust many in the Black community have toward the health care system is less about this one experiment than is “the everyday interactions” they have today, as “many Tuskegees” are occurring all the time.
  • The rollout of the monkeypox vaccine demonstrates how treatment is being denied to Black communities that need it.

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The Tuskegee Syphilis Study revelation’s legacy 50 years later

Photograph of participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (Photo courtesy of National Archives)

It’s been 50 years ago last month since the nation learned about one of the most shameful and consequential chapters in U.S. medical research (and there’s a fair bit to pick from). In the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” the U.S. Public Health Service enrolled 600 Black male sharecroppers from Tuskegee, Alabama, and intentionally withheld information and treatment from approximately 200 of the 399 Black men who had syphilis while researchers studied how the disease affected their life course.

Key takeaways for journalists

  • An understanding of health care racial/ethnic disparities is essential for ethical reporting on health and medicine.
  • The Tuskegee Study is a consequence of U.S. institutional racism and false beliefs about Black men, and it’s one contributor to health care disparities among Black Americans today.
  • A basic familiarity with the facts of the Tuskegee Study is crucial for health reporters to know.
  • Part of the Tuskegee Study’s enduring legacy contributes to the mistrust and/or skepticism many Black Americans have regarding health care and medicine.
  • The Tuskegee Study alone is not the primary driver of Black mistrust in health care and should not be dismissively used as a scapegoat to explain a complex phenomenon informed by people’s personal experience, a long history of personal and structural racism in U S. health care, and the continuing systemic racism that exists in U.S. health care and medicine.

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How to use health equity data to cover access to COVID‑19 rapid tests

Victoria Knight

When the Biden Administration rolled out two COVID-19 rapid tests programs in mid-January, Kaiser Health News reporters Victoria Knight and Hannah Recht were separately researching the initiatives, including one that allowed Americans to get free tests through the U.S. Postal Service. Their reporting included interviewing experts and gathering U.S. Census Bureau data about health equity measures such as home-based internet subscription rates. 

The behind-the-scenes reporting illustrates how some stories are rooted in social media serendipity and collaboration. In this “How I Did It,” Knight and Recht explain how the article came together and why the data they compiled suggested that millions of Americans — mainly Black, Hispanic and Native American, and Alaska Native people — could face significant challenges in getting the rapid tests. (The following conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.)

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New tip sheet explores health equity in reproductive health care

Photo by Diedre Smith, Navy Medicine via Flickr.

It may take months or years before we grasp the health-related ramifications of the Supreme Court ruling that makes it legal for states to ban and restrict abortion. But the existing health equity data about key reproductive health measures — including maternal mortality, birth control use, and abortion — offer clues and raise questions about the short- and long-term effects the decision will have on the quality of health of females from the country’s largest race and ethnic groups.

With those health topics in mind, we’re offering a new tip sheet with resources about unintended pregnancy, birth control use and abortion. These materials may help explain why trends aren’t solely the result of personal choices or cultural practices but also related to lingering distrust of a medical system rife with racist policies, socioeconomic bias among medical providers, availability of medical facilities, and other social and structural determinants of wellbeing. The reports, studies, and data we’re sharing will help you add more depth to stories about the implications of the Supreme Court ruling on a procedure that is an integral part of reproductive health care.

Disparities in reproductive health measures

In the process of gathering information to explain why non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women may be most affected by the decision, all roads lead to birth control data. The CDC authors of this 2021 report on abortion trends connect the dots between birth control use and unintended pregnancy and abortion patterns. More specifically, the report’s authors suggest that differences in quality family planning services, among other reasons, could explain why non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women of reproductive age are more likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to have unintended pregnancies and abortions. (see Figure 1)

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