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Maternal health remains area with biggest racial disparities

April is Minority Health Month and UMN Global Women's Health Director Dr. Rahel Nardos says she's hoping the designation will inspire action.

MINNEAPOLIS — There's a fact that always lingers in the back of Dr. Rahel Nardos' mind.

"Every couple of minutes, a woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related... globally," Dr. Nardos said. "Of those, 95 percent of them happen in low and middle-income countries."

As Director of Global Women's Health at the University of Minnesota, Nardos is keenly aware that those numbers also translate to the United States. April is Minority Health Month and Nardos says she hopes the designation will inspire action.

"In Minnesota, for example, Black women have two times higher risk of dying from childbirth-related causes," she shared. "And American Indian communities have four times higher risk of dying."

The reason why is the million dollar question, one that has a multi-part answer. Lack of education, gender inequalities and economic disparity are among the explanations. 

"Minorities lack the resources to have continuous and quality access to care, those are huge barriers," Nardos said. "And even when they do access care, if they're not treated well, respect with cultural sensitivity, a lot of people don't feel comfortable seeking care."

In fact, Nardos said she sees a lot of female patients bring in younger female companions with them to appointments. They might be a daughter, cousin, niece or close family friend who often acts as a translator. Nardos sees those young women as an invaluable resource that hospitals could potentially tap into.

"How has this experience been? What would make it better for you to be better advocates for your family?" Nardos asked. "And maybe in the process of doing this with mentorship and leadership training, they might actually consider healthcare as a field and area they can pursue."

As April winds to a close, Nardos said she hopes its designation of Minority Health Month will move people beyond talk.

"That would be a good use of minority month, I think, if we can move people to action through the stories we tell. " 

Every April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) observes National Minority Health Month to highlight the importance of improving the health of racial and ethnic minority and American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities and reducing health disparities.


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