For almost 40 years the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) has advocated through programs and policies for the health of Black women and girls, but their cause takes on new meaning under the Biden administration.
Tammy Boyd, BWHI chief policy officer and counsel, said recently the nonprofit met with members of the Biden administration before the inauguration to underscore what they consider one of the new administration’s most important tasks: Women’s’ health.
“We pulled together a group of about 30 Black women or Black-led organizations that work on Black women’s health issues to speak with the Health and Human Services [HHS] transition team,” Boyd said.
“It was really an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, these are the issues that are impacting Black women’s health,’” she said of the group’s talking points that highlighted the need for attention to cardiovascular and general reproductive health, breast cancer and uterine fibroids.
The topic takes on more significance with Kamala Harris so close to the top. As senator she advocated the Uterine Fibroid Research and Education Act of 2020, 15 years after it was introduced by the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio).
BWHI says they plan to make sure the issue of uterine fibroids, which disproportionately affects Black women, isn’t pushed aside by Congress.
“We are going to be reintroducing the bill this Black History Month and we plan to engage the administration in increasing research around uterine fibroids, which includes a study to look at the different treatment options,” Boyd said.
“Hysterectomies are commonly suggested, but we want to say hey let’s look at the whole range of treatment options.”
BWHI also focused on the impact of breast cancer on Black women during the meeting with the HHS transition team.
“Although Black women don’t get breast cancer at the rate of white women, Black women have a higher mortality rate,” Boyd said. “A, because the breast cancer we get tends to be more aggressive and B, there is also the issue of access.”
The nonprofit recently launched a campaign with singer Mary J. Blige to encourage mammograms at 40, to counteract messages that say women don’t have to get mammograms until 50.
Boyd asserts BWHI is optimistic that the health of Black women will fare better under this administration.
“We are definitely hopeful, but at the same time we do know we have to make sure we hold folks accountable, and continue to echo and reach forth about Black women’s health issues.”
BWHI is also working with the White House’s COVID-19 team to improve vaccine confidence in the Black community, work on mistrust and ensure that vaccine distribution is equitable.
“The question is how do we get it to wards 7 and 8 and make sure they have just as much access to the vaccine as white residents in the District?”
Boyd says the issue of fair vaccine distribution is very important to the health of Black women who are often the head of household and a major share of frontline essential workers.
“What we found out during the pandemic is Black women weren’t able to stay at home or work from home. If they are impacted by COVID-19, it’s even worse as far as job loss and job stability.”
Although the pandemic remains at the forefront, BWHI is also advocating for a cause that again impacts minorities significantly: rare disease.
Last May, the group launched the Rare Disease Diversity Coalition to bring awareness to these diseases and improve health outcomes for patients of color.
BWHI President and CEO Linda Goler Blount said there are significant barriers with developing effective therapeutics for minorities.
“Lack of researchers of color and lack of participants of color in clinical trials mean evidence-based medicine is applied to people who had nothing to do with the creation of the evidence.”
“However, the number one reason patients of color are not included in clinical trials is because they are not asked by their physicians.”
Blount said their campaign RISE for Rare, which launched in November is a powerful first step to ensuring patients of color are included in research and that physicians and researchers understand the importance of that inclusion.
On Feb. 28, Rare Disease Day, BWHI will host a Virtual Town Hall to provide information and resources on rare diseases such as sickle cell and lupus with healthcare leaders from various organizations such as Children’s National, American Medical Association and the National Hispanic Medical Association.
The virtual event will also discuss how the coronavirus vaccine will impact those living with rare disease and some of the obstacles they may face.
Boyd says the work BWHI is doing is applicable to all, but the focus remains on Black women who are essential pillars in the Black community.
“It’s important to have Black women pushing for our own self-care, wellness and health,” she said.
“We know the role that Black women play from mobilizing and empowering people and being on the front lines, but also the role in the African American community and within the family.”
“Making sure Black women are healthy is very key for the overall sustainability of the African American community.”