Black history month and African American female pioneers before and during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

BY Amukelani Charmaine Matsilele
The establishment of Black History Month occurred after the thirteenth amendment enforced the abolishment of slavery. Black History Month recognizes the central role of African Americans in the history of the U.S. The month is dedicated to creating awareness and an opportunity to honor the often-neglected accomplishments of African Americans. Every year a specific theme is chosen, and for the year 2022, the theme for Black History Month focuses on black health and wellness. As we celebrate Black History Month, people must be made aware of African American females who are contributing to the medical field.
As we focus on this year’s theme for Black History Month, looking at black health and wellness during the Covid pandemic, it is crucial to highlight the history of African American women who are pioneers in the health sector. Over the decades, some of the notable pioneers of African American women in the medical field are Dr. Lucy Hughes Brown, who was the first physician in 1894. She broke the barriers for African American people by opening the first black nursing school in South Carolina, which served the marginalized African Americans. In the early thirties, Florence Small Gaynor was the first black female hospital chief. She managed to set up a viable community advisory board to cater to the African Americans’ needs in the surrounding communities. Dr. Marylin Hughes Gatson was the leading researcher for Sickle Cell disease. She led the ground-breaking study and showed the benefits of screening for Sickle Cell disease at birth and the effectiveness of penicillin to prevent infection from sepsis. Patricia Era Bath was the first female African American physician to complete the ophthalmology residency. She explored the inequalities in vision care, and her research findings showed that the rate of blindness was twice for African Americans than whites. Alexa Irene Canady was the first neurosurgeon, and her area of focus was on paediatric neurosurgeons as a central approach. There are many more who contributed to the well-being of African Americans.
This year’s black health and wellness theme comes at a timely junction when the Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in African American communities. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened existing health disparities and revealed a gap in the U.S ability to respond to vulnerable population groups. This African American community accounts for most deaths across all age groups. It is important to note that the Covid-19 high death rates in the African American community should be attributed to historical discrimination such as race, age, and socio-economic status. Some of the notable African American females in the health sector who are working at the frontline and putting their efforts are Dr. Ala Stanford highlighting that the data was showing black people dying from Covid-19 at higher rates than white people and called upon herself to establish the Black Doctors Covid -19 Consortium which went into black neighborhoods to test for Covid -19.
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett was part of the doctors who helped develop Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Corbett indicated that she was aware that many people of color did not trust the vaccine, therefore, wanted the people of color to be aware that one of their own as part of the vaccine developers. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith is a chair for the Biden Administration’s Covid -19 health equity task force. She is also dedicated to addressing health disparities in marginalized communities by looking at racial discrimination in health care, which is fueled by vaccine distrust with people of color. Dr. Michelle Nichols’s focus is on the advancement of health equity. She is at the helm of recruiting people of color for the Novavax Covid -19 vaccine trial. Debra Frazer Howze launched Choose Healthy life program to provide awareness and education about Covid -19. Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice aimed to have vaccines administered at schools. To ensure the trust of the black community, the vaccine was administered to thirty civil rights leaders to promote a safe vaccine mandate.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic only brought to light what was already happening in terms of health care with African American women who were most affected and died from the pandemic in the U.S. Again, social factors were involved. Racial differences were interpreted as a marker of communities and individuals’ historical and ongoing oppression. These trade-offs are evident in Black women’s health outcomes and use of medical care. However, the plight of black women is not a unique situation to the U.S but also related to Africa. While we celebrate and commemorate Black History Month, an area often neglected or less spoken of highlighting the plight of women’s health, which is usually an underserved area in the Black communities. Dr. Piraye Yurttas Bem indicated that Black women are underrepresented in datasets and have worse health outcomes. In addition, statics from both the African continent and the U.S show that the under-investment in women’s health care is one of the many challenges to overcome.
This is due to gaps and barriers created by a lack of focus on social factors emanating from societal and health systems. Compared to white women, black women are more likely to be uninsured, face more significant financial barriers to care when they need it and are less likely to access prenatal care. As we commemorate Black History Month, it is crucial to look for new ways to improve black females’ treatment across continents in the health sector. We need a multi-faceted approach that addresses black women’s health across the lifespan, improves access to quality care, addresses social determinants of health, and provides greater economic security. Former President of the Republic of Liberia argued that women must be actively involved in decisions related to their health.
In closing, the plight of women health issues is a matter that should be addressed with urgency to improve the health sector where African and African American females are concerned.