by Teri Huyck, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin
At Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, the emphasis of our work is prevention—prevention of unintended and teen pregnancy, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV and prevention of reproductive cancers. We provide high quality, affordable health care, honest, accurate community education and we advocate for policies supporting equal access to these services for all people. We take this work very seriously, which is why we always work to provide our patients and community members with the most individualized care and relevant information for them. Of particular concern to us is the myriad ways in which inequalities in health care access and availability affect the lives and health of African-American women and families in Milwaukee. Take, for instance, HIV. Unfortunately, African American families are bearing the brunt of this epidemic. Every racial and ethnic group studied by the WI Department of Health have reported a decline in infections in 2010, except for African Americans. In total, there are an estimated 6,295 people living with HIV in Wisconsin as of December 31, 2010. But the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 21 percent of all persons living with HIV do not know they are infected, meaning an additional 1,670 people are estimated to be living with HIV in Wisconsin but are unaware of their status. The first step in preventing the transmission of HIV is for all people to know their status, which is why the testing we provide at our health centers everyday—and the partnerships we are involved in with organizations such as the Cream City Medical Society, who organize an annual HIV Testing Day event—are so important for public health. Another alarming statistic: African-American women are less likely to get breast cancer than white women; however, they are more likely to die from breast cancer when they do have it. This is in large part because African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage than white women. In our work, we find that two factors contribute to this serious problem: First, too many women lack health insurance or access to affordable, high-quality health care services in their neighborhoods. And second, it’s important to know one’s family health history and to be open and honest with health care providers about what is known. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is working to promote regular breast cancer screenings and early detection of breast cancer among African-American women throughout our organization. Annually, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin provides nearly 62,000 exams, including breast cancer screenings. Nearly twenty percent of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s patients – more than 13,000 people – were African-American in 2009. Furthermore, our community education department is a community resource to help families learn and talk about reproductive health issues openly, honestly and accurately. Visit www.ppwi.org for information about upcoming community education events, as well as other resources available. Putting prevention first should be a shared priority, but make no doubt about it: the state budget was only the first serious threat to the health of Wisconsin women, and women of color in particular. Over and over again we encounter politicians who believe organizations providing affordable health care like ours, and the BadgerCare programs many of our patients rely on, should be eliminated. Even so, Planned Parenthood is committed to do everything we can to make sure that health disparities in the African-American community are addressed—and ultimately reversed for good.