Racial Health Disparities

Fifty years ago this week, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In it, he outlined his vision of an America in which all citizens are equal. Despite Dr. King's civil rights successes and the expansion of the U.S. healthcare system in the decades since, black and white Americans have yet to reach parity.

Infant Mortality

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says that babies born to black women are one and a half to three times more likely to die than babies born to white women. Black women are also more than one and a half times more likely to give birth prematurely.

Preventative Care

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 20 percent of black Americans lack access to a primary care doctor, compared with less than 16 percent of whites.

In a comprehensive Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report on health disparities, the agency reported that African Americans are more likely than whites to live in unsafe housing and in areas with high levels of air pollution, contributing to asthma and other respiratory problems.

And, according to the AHRQ, only seven percent of black children hospitalized for asthma are prescribed asthma medications, compared to 21 percent of white children.

Heart Disease

Although blacks are less likely to die from drug overdoses and suicides than their white peers, according to the CDC, they are more likely to die of heart disease and stroke, despite a far lower absolute number of cases.

Cancer and HIV/AIDS

The NCSL also notes that African-American men are twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than their white counterparts.

And the CDC says that in 2008 African Americans were nine times more likely than whites to be infected with HIV, while the AHRQ says that blacks with HIV are less likely than whites to receive antiretroviral drug therapy.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton allotted the CDC $10 million to eliminate racial disparities in health care by 2010. Three years after that deadline passed, we still have a very long way to go.

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