It is a well known fact that disparities affect Black people in the medical field. And in Alabama, Black women are dying of cervical cancer at more than twice the national average, despite the fact that the disease is preventable and even curable if detected early.
In fact, a report by Human Rights Watch
, boldly declares that “cervical cancer deaths should not happen.”
But in Alabama’s Black Belt, known for its rich soil and its predominantly African American population, it does happen, and even across the nation, Black women are more likely to die from cervical cancer than their counterparts of other races and ethnicities.
Black women die at nearly double the rate of white women, at 5.2 out of every 100,000 versus 2.7 out of every 100,000.
Human Rights Watch
notes that a lot of the issue is related to poverty and a lack of aid to these women.
“State policies and law, together with recent federal changes, limit the effectiveness of the few state and federal resources that exist to help make reproductive health care services and information accessible to low-income Alabamian women,” the report notes.
Alongside the state’s restrictive health insurance policies, there is also the “serious shortage” of physicians, particularly in rural areas, as well as structural racism to contend with.
And the racial inequality runs deep. Even if a Black woman earns as much as her white counterpart, she is still at higher risk of dying from the disease.
According to the report, some 235 Alabamian woman are diagnosed with the disease each year. Every year over 100 die from what is, ultimately, a largely preventable disease. And the situation is not getting better as the years past. The study notes that the rate of cervical cancer cases and deaths increased 18.2 percent and 34.5 percent respectively between 2010 and 2014.
The study points to four points of intervention that can either prevent, treat or cure the disease so women don’t die. There is of course the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine that prevents women and girls from contracting HPV which leads do most cervical cancer cases. Screenings for cervical cancer that can detect early changes. Follow-ups after any abnormal screenings can prompt the removal of precancerous lesions before they develop into the cancer. And then of course, when treated in its early stages, the cancer can be treated and boasts a high survival rate.
However, for women in the Black Belt, getting proper reproductive health care can be complicated, especially since, as mentioned before, many of the counties in Black Belt have no physicians, so the women have to travel long distances in order to even get to a follow-up.
Human Rights Watch
cites one 57-year-old, Darcy C., who pays up to $150 just to make the two-and-a-half hour trip to her gynecological oncologist for screenings and other tests.
“It’s really hard. And I have to go without a lot to make sure that I have the money…. I get barely $700 per month, so with the bills I have to pay, it doesn’t leave anything for a trip.”
This puts women in difficult decisions, with some choosing between health care, and other needs such as electricity and medication. Some women revealed to Human Rights Watch
that they avoided non-emergency health care while uninsured. All of this means that often they are not treated until the cancer is in its more advanced stages, when it is less likely to be cured.