Fresno doctor speaks about inequalities in health care faced by pregnant Black women

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- COVID-19 has highlighted racial and ethnic inequalities in health care.

These disparities begin at birth.

"There's a lot of stress in the communities of African American women - stressful living situations, poverty in terms of poor education or work environment situations as well. So all of these factors kind of come together at once... which can lead to many complications," says Dr. Marci Dabbs with Saint Agnes Care Obstetrics and Gynecology.

According to the CDC, 25,000 pregnant women develop severe complications every year.

The U.S. continues to have the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.

The disturbing trend is driven largely by high death rates among Black mothers.

700 women die giving birth and Black women are 2-3 times more likely to die.

The latest data from March of Dimes show Black moms in Fresno represent nearly 15% of total infant deaths.
This rate is higher than in the state and the U.S. - two factors that play significant roles in the disparity are false notions and hidden biases.

"Unconscious bias when it comes to Black women can take many forms. One form, with regards to pain perception is that sometimes they may feel that Black women don't perceive pain, equally, that they may have a history of drug abuse in the past, perhaps, or that they just physiologically are built differently, made differently to not feel pain. So sometimes providers do not want to give pain medication or they think that the patient is making this up or they're faking," says Dr. Dabbs.

Stevojohnay Gordon, a Valley mother, believes advocating for yourself in the doctor's office is critical.

"Speak as clearly as possible to get your needs across. If you feel like something is wrong with you, explain it the best way you can."

Dr. Dabbs is optimistic that more deaths and complications can be prevented with increased awareness and financial backing.

"There are very few African American physicians in our town. I'm one of them and then I really want to help them and all my patients but let them know that you can trust me that I'm looking out for you."

Fresno County has launched a Black Infant Health program to support local Black women through their pregnancy and after. For more information, click here.
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