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Unveiling Disparities: An In-Depth Exploration of Women’s Healthcare Inequities

At the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation (JBRF), our commitment to advancing the health and livelihood of Black women is deeply rooted in the legacy of a trailblazer who boldly challenged societal norms and paved the way for future generations.

Not long ago, women were rarely encouraged to pursue education, careers, and were denied leadership roles. Our namesake, Jane Bancroft Robinson, was a visionary leader who embodied the essence of social good in an era where women’s voices went unheard. She worked tirelessly to ensure neglected communities in D.C. had a chance at better health outcomes. 

Women’s History Month is a reminder of all the progress that has been made to advance critical areas of healthcare and workforce. However, it is also a time we need to reflect on the challenges that persist. In honoring Jane’s legacy, our foundation recognizes that there is still an urgent need to address the intersecting challenges faced by women, particularly Black women residing East of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8.

The District of Columbia Cancer Control Plan 2022-2026 specifically outlines a shared framework of goals and objectives to address the cancer burden in D.C. It sets clear goals, objectives and strategies across the cancer continuum from prevention, screening and early detection, to treatment and survivorship.

As stated in the report, data from 2018 shows female breast cancer to be the most frequently diagnosed cancer with 139.5 cases per 100,000 individuals. It is also the second-highest leading cause of mortality, with 27.1 deaths per 100,000. From 2014-2018, Ward 8 reported the highest cancer incidence rate in D.C with 453 cases per 100,000. It is closely followed by Ward 7 with 451 cases per 100,000. As of 2020, African Americans make up 66% of the total populations in Wards 5, 7, and 8. 

It is worth noting that this number is a decline from the overall cancer incidence in 2008 –  496.6 cases and 201.8 deaths – which is already extremely high. The disparities faced by Black women in Wards 7 and 8 are multifaceted, so we need to look at the root cause of what is happening to solve them. 

In the same report, D.C. Health identified nine key social determinants of health operating in D.C.: education, employment, income, housing, transportation, food environment, medical care, outdoor environment, and community safety. It indicated that racism drives these disparities by structuring opportunity and assigning value based on how a person looks, creating structural racism that unfairly benefits some while unfairly disadvantaging others.

The data clearly articulates the significant barriers to access that are exacerbated by race, ethnicity, and geography. Therefore, as a philanthropic organization, we are committed to eliminating these barriers to improving social determinants such as education, employment, income, and medical care with a special focus on workforce development and patient navigation interventions focused on Black women access, especially in cancer care. 

Alongside alarming challenges, there’s also notable progress. Initiatives like the Cancer Moonshot that launched in 2016 signify a national-level acknowledgment of the necessity for accelerated interventions to tackle the formidable challenges posed by cancer. A key aspect of this initiative is the development of a cancer research workforce that reflects the diversity of the U.S. population and can offer diverse perspectives.

It takes a lot of resources to change direction and address inequities that are fundamentally rooted in the fabric of our society. To improve equitable access to healthcare and economic opportunities, we need continued action. At JBRF, equity is central to our mission and we understand that those who experience a situation firsthand are best equipped to address it. Our trust-based philanthropy shifts power and resources to existing community assets East of the River. We value innovative solutions that produce results and prioritize involving community voices to inspire positive change. The trusting relationship that develops opens a safe space for candid engagement as we collaborate on solutions that primarily benefit Black women. When we convene, we hear the voices of our community members and inform our grantmaking to address systemic challenges preventing our communities to thrive. By investing in their well-being and potential, we’re not just uplifting individuals but also building stronger families and therefore, stronger communities.

As we continue to pursue our mission of advancing the health and livelihood of Black women, we extend an invitation to other philanthropies to team up with us in changing the status quo. Despite a slight improvement in the mortality rate due to cancer, the rate remains too high, particularly in the nation’s capital. We believe that access to healthcare is a fundamental right and should not be hindered by economic or social status. Together, we can remove obstacles to healthcare access and provide economic opportunities that will help Black women overcome the economic challenges they face, thus giving them an opportunity to thrive. 

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