Best Health : 2020-11-01

STORIES FROM THE GAP : 47 : 45

STORIES FROM THE GAP

STORIES FROM THE GAP b best health OCTOBER NOVEMBER | “WHEN YOU HAVE NEGATIVE RACIST EXPERIENCE­S FROM HEALTH-CARE PROVIDERS AT A YOUNG AGE, YOU STOP ENGAGING WITHTHEHEA­LTHCARE SYSTEM.” Early experience­s with racism Research from Women’s Health in Women’s Hands found that about 60 percent of young Black Canadian women experience racism in the health-care system between the ages of 16 and 21. These experience­s can have a long-lasting effect, Massaquoi says. “When you have negative racist experience­s from health-care providers at a young age, you stop engaging with the health-care system to avoid those types of experience­s. What we end up seeing on the other side is Black women not accessing health care until things are at crisis levels.” The result, Massaquoi explains, is that Black women are often late to seek care, particular­ly when it comes to chronic illnesses. That means late diagnoses and treatment for conditions such as diabetes, most cancers (such as breast and cervical cancer) and mental health disorders. The lack of tangible, large-scale data only makes this issue worse; having more data might lead to actionable change. “It’s not just [about] research. It’s the consistent collection of race-based data at the point of entry into the health-care system,” she says. Many of these issues begin well before the point of care, Massaquoi adds. The impact of systematic racism has resulted in poverty rates for Black people that exceed those in the general population, which exposes Black people to chronic illness at a greater rate. And preventive healthcare measures can be difficult when a person is living close to the poverty line, Massaquoi explains. “So yes, all these things are a perfect storm that creates a scenario where Black women bear the brunt of racism when it comes to health,” she says. The way forward An important key to breaking this cycle is having more Black representa­tion in the health-care field — and there’s some good news on that front. “[There’s] definitely an upward trend of more Black students being funnelled into medical programs within the health-care field, so in five to 10 years, when they’re done, we’ll see an increase of Black providers,” says Jacques. For their part, Jacques and her team at Wombcare are developing a research project focused on the experience­s Black people have with endometrio­sis and fibroids. She’s hoping to collaborat­e with hospitals and universiti­es, because this type of data collection is crucial to figuring out concrete interventi­ons. Besides arising from government policies and legislatio­n, solutions can also come from the advocacy and non-clinical spaces within health care, Massaquoi says. Currently, there are only a handful of community health centres dedicated to servicing the needs of Black women in all of North America. Grassroots organizati­ons can focus on developing culturally appropriat­e solutions and programs that best cater to the health needs of Black Canadian women. “We need to create more health organizati­ons that focus specifical­ly on improving health outcomes for Black communitie­s,” she says.