AFRICAN AMERICANS: Seminar Explores Health Problems, Infant Mortality Rate Declines
Although Orange County's African American community is "tiny," it faces some "very real health issues," and the Orange County African American Women's Health Coalition Symposium held Sunday offered black women "a rare opportunity to come together." Two hundred women who gathered at Chapman University heard keynote speaker Dr. Lisa Masterson, an OB/GYN, cite disturbing figures about black women's disproportionate health problems: They account for more than two-thirds of new HIV infections in women ages 13-24, 73% of female gonorrhea cases, 84% of syphilis cases and 42% of chlamydia cases. Black women "die at a rate 20% higher than white women and ... develop breast cancer at an earlier age." In addition to underutilization of reproductive health services, Masterson blamed the disparities on financial stress -- which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self- esteem -- and resulting alcoholism, smoking, drug abuse and eating disorders (Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times, 5/24). She added, "We have to teach ourselves to value ourselves. It's the only real way to change the statistics" (Wilson, Orange County Register, 5/24).
Over the past 10 years, the infant mortality rate among California's African-American population has "dramatically" decreased, thanks to more expectant women receiving early and ongoing prenatal care. The rate in 1997 was 13.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, down from 14 in 1996 and 16.7 in 1990. Grantland Johnson, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said, "There's no better way to prevent complications during pregnancy than getting early and continuous prenatal care services." Recognizing that such care is the "most critical factor" in nurturing a healthy pregnancy and birth, targeted media and community-based outreach programs such as DHS' BabyCal Campaign and the Black Infant Health program have launched extensive community outreach efforts throughout the state, which have "largely contributed" to the consistent rise of African-American women participating in prenatal care programs. The two programs also educate pregnant women about the importance of practicing healthy behaviors and about existing state programs that can help with medical costs, such as Medi-Cal and AIM (California Department of Health Services release, 5/24).