Advocates say the African-American population experiences significant disparities with diseases, access to care and preventive screenings.
Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., discusses efforts to end health disparities in the African-American community.
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team
Anderson: In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African-American woman doctor. 155 years later, a lack of diversity in medicine remains an ongoing issue. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Tetiana Anderson. Joining me to discuss Dr. Crumpler´s legacy and continued efforts to improve diversity in the medicine community is Congresswoman Robin Kelly. She is a Democrat. She is from the state of Illinois. Representative Kelly is the co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. Representative Kelly, thank you for being here.
Kelly: Thanks for having me.
Anderson: So, Rebecca Lee Crumpler -- What about her story has been such a motivator for you?
Kelly: Just the idea that she became a doctor in 1864. It´s difficult to become a doctor now, and to think that she did it in 1864, I´m sure that she didn´t have a lot of colleagues helping her or things like that. So, I´m sure her path was difficult, but she made it.
Anderson: So, we know that health disparities in the African-American community are real -- higher incidents of certain diseases, higher rates of mortality. This is an issue that you´ve been working on for a long time. How hopeful are you that this can really be changed?
Kelly: Well, out of the top-10 diseases that we have, African-Americans are number one, unfortunately, in 8 of the 10. But I think if we concentrate on access to health care, educating our Black population, and also more doctors, nurses, people in the medical field pipeline that are diverse, that would help tremendously.
Anderson: So, those are some of the sort of five-pillars, or five areas, that you are working on when it comes to changing the whole system, is that correct?
Kelly: Right, and, of course, access to health care.
Anderson: So, work might be focused on ending disparities in the African-American community when it comes to the health issues, but there´s really a bigger picture, you say here. "African-American health is related to the health of the nation." Explain that for us.
Kelly: Well, we say when the nation has a cold, we have a flu, and we always have it worse than any other population, and it deals, of course, with the poverty issue and unemployment and lack of health care in general. So, it just seems, in all of the diseases, to effect us worse.
Anderson: And we´re now entering a new Congress in 2019. How hopeful are you that your cohort will really sort of put this front and center moving forward?
Kelly: Health care is number one. We ran on that. If you look at polls and surveys, that´s what people are concerned about. And not just African-Americans are concerned about it, but the whole population is concerned about it. And with the Congressional Black Caucus, we´re 55 strong. I´m also the Chair of the CBC Health Braintrust, so we will make sure that this is an issue up-front and in the center.
Anderson: And in legislative action. I mean, you are actually working on something that would deal with ending maternal mortality. Tell us about this Bill.
Kelly: Right. I have a Bill called "The Momma Act," and it deals with maternal mortality. I know people have seen a lot on the news about where the United States ranks, and we don´t rank too well there. There are like 700 women a year that die from childbirth or within the first year of childbirth, and African-Americans die three to four times, women, more than our white counterparts.
Anderson: And Representative Kelly, I know you say that the whole can only be as healthy as its parts, so thank you so much for sharing this with us.
Kelly: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Tetiana Anderson.