CEO’s Challenge to MCH Leaders
June 2018

To Make Progress on Health Equity, Demand that Non-Health Leaders Come to the Table

Lori Freeman

This issue of Pulse themed around health equity is always timely and important. Yet, it’s frustrating that, after spending close to 30 years hearing about the impact of health inequities and social injustice on health and well-being, the field of maternal and child health and public health is still trying to get a sustainable social movement and public outcry in place.

It has always been amazing to me that the media, for example, will cover any “atrocity of the day” where there is an unexpected loss of human life. To their credit I suppose, they will even address issues of race, ethnicity, or gender diversity associated with these deaths. These news stories consistently raise our hackles, and occasionally do sprout some social movements, like Black Lives Matter. But sadly, there still is no such public outrage over the fact that globally, 2.6 million children died in their first month of life in 2016. Or, that there are approximately 7,000 newborn deaths every day, according to the World Health Organization, and that black babies die at 2.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic whites.

Even though angry protests emerge quickly when one young black man dies at the hands of a white police officer, no one protests loudly about the thousands of black men and women who die years earlier than their white, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American counterparts just because of ‘weathering,’ or early health deterioration from repeated exposure and adaptation to stressors.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention¬†confirms¬†with data what we see through experience: “Blacks experience premature aging and earlier health decline than whites, and that this decline in health accumulates across the entire lifespan and potentially across generations. This happens as a consequence of psychosocial, economic and environmental stressors.”

I have sat at many, many conferences and been involved with countless national workgroups and advisory committees to discuss and address health equity. More often than not, I take a look at the group composition or read through the registration lists, and I fail to see representatives from education, housing, economic development, agriculture, labor and employment, community planning, and members of the community.

This is where I see the biggest chasm in the health equity work. We cannot just continue to gather and talk amongst ourselves about how to address health equity. We will never find the solution. We will never be able to create change by ourselves. It is not productive to continue to work in these silos on this issue.

I challenge all of us in leadership roles, moving forward in all of our critical health equity work, to be the one at the table that raises the questions: Where are our counterparts in education, housing, economic development, agriculture, labor, and planning? Why are they not here with us? How can we bring them to the conversation? Do they comprehend how their work is impactful to health equity? Why should they care?