“Health of the Black Population: A Question of Fairness”
Of deaths related to childbirth, 80% are black
According to the Ministry of Health, 300 women a month die as a result of problems related to childbirth. Of these, 80% are black women. The mortality rate among them is higher in the southern states of the country – 6.31 deaths per 100,000 women black of childbearing age, compared to 2.75 for white women per 100,000. In the Southeast, the most populous region in Brazil, the rate is 1.82 deaths for white women and 4.90 for black women.
These disparities extend themselves to other health problems of the black population can be measured by the difference in life expectancy of 74 years for whites and 67.5 years for blacks, on average, without taking gender into consideration.
For the coordinator of the Comitê Técnico de Saúde da População Negra (Specialist Committee on the Health of the Black Population), Ana Costa, these are some of the signs of racism present in the Sistema Único de Saúde (Unique System of Health or SUS). “We are encouraging that from now on blacks make complaints to the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Health”, she says.
Even today, however, the ministry itself does not know the numbers of cases of racism registered in the entire network of public health. However, the perception of discrimination in SUS seems incontestable. “It has always existed, the difference is that now we have scientific evidence,” says Ana Costa. It is based on these data that the committee formed by health researchers and leaders of the Movimento Negro (collective of black rights organizations) – intends to use to argue for the formulation of affirmative action policies.
The plan involves workshops and campaigns against racism and discrimination, and also seeks an investment in the improvement of information on health and the training of black leadership. For the head of this committee, it is the first step in ending what she calls ‘socially determined diseases.’
Health Minister admits that there is racism in the SUS
Based on a survey conducted by the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz or the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation), the Health Minister Agenor Alvares, acknowledged that there is racism in the medical care of blacks in the Unique Health System (SUS). Citing the study, the minister explained that such discrimination is reflected in incomplete diagnosis, tests that aren’t done and even a refusal of touching the patient. “This racism creates very perverse conditions we have to fight this aggressively. We want to build a new culture and create values of solidarity and tolerance in relation to the black population,” said the minister, participating in Rio de Janeiro, from the opening of a seminar which discussed the basis for the new National Health Policy of the Black Population.
The minister said the goal of this program is to reduce the incidence of AIDS, tuberculosis, hypertension, cervical cancer and maternal mortality, which have the greatest impact on the black population in comparison to whites. “If the prevalence of these diseases are characterized by a lack of care, this is a flaw that we need to fix,” he said. The seminar was overseen by Maria Inez Barbosa, who represented the Special Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality.
Maria Inez Barbosa
The fight against discrimination, according to Alvarez, includes professional training courses for doctors, nurses, attendants of accredited institutions of SUS, and encouraging the reporting of poor medical service to the General Ombudsman of SUS. The initiative includes states and municipalities.
Singer Negra Li expecting first child
The ministry will also allocate R$3 million (Brazilian reaisor about $1.75 million American dollars) for 60 research projects that focus on the health of the black population. The funds will be distributed by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. “The consolidation of the constitutional principles of SUS will only be complete when it is not necessary for us to establish specific policies for specific segments of our population,” said the minister.
Militants of the Movimento Negro celebrated the posture adopted by the Ministry of Health that, in recognizing the problem, seeks to change the situation. “SUS was created to serve the citizen, but actually it serves according to social class and color. As new policies are implemented, I believe we will reverse the way the black population is served at health centers to the hospitals of high complexity,” said the coordinator of the NGO Criola, Lúcia Xavier.
According to the coordinator of the Technical Committee on the Health of the Black Population, Ana Costa, the federal government has some data that are indicative of the prejudice in medical care given to blacks. The maternal mortality rate, for example, is more than double for black women in comparison to white women (4.79 and 2.09 women per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively). Mortality rates of HIV infection are also higher among black women (12.29 women per 100,000 inhabitants) than among white women (5.45), according to data from the southeast region. Another study found that the number of deaths of women between the ages of 10 and 49 involving causes connected to pregnancy, childbirth and post-childbirth complications was three greater for black women than for white women due to the lack of pre-natal medical care.
Source: Black Women of Brazil
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