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October 18, 2021

Women & Children First

Addressing maternal and child health disparities in Kansas

This opinion piece by Health Fund President David Jordan originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Kansas Child magazine.

All Kansans should get to live in communities where good schools, healthy environments, safe homes, quality jobs, and access to health care and high-quality goods and services are the norm.

To achieve that goal in Kansas, we need to address long-standing racial and ethnic disparities in health, poverty rates, and educational attainment. Addressing these inequities is complex, but improving the health and well-being of mothers, infants, and children is a critically important strategy. It is predictive of future public health challenges for families, communities, and the health system.

We need to address long-standing racial and ethnic disparities in health, poverty rates, and educational attainment.

Unfortunately, significant racial disparities exist in maternal and child health. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation brief highlighted:

  • Black and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) women have higher rates of pregnancy-related death compared to white women.
  • Black, AIAN, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI) women are more likely than white women to have births with risk factors that increase the likelihood of infant mortality and that can have long-term negative consequences for children’s health.
  • Infants born to Black, AIAN, and NHOPI women have markedly higher mortality rates than those born to white women.

These disparities, in part, reflect increased barriers to health care among people of color. To improve access to health care for people of color in Kansas and to ensure every Kansan has an opportunity for a healthy start in life, we must:

  • Invest in prenatal care and equity-­based birth education.
  • Improve access to prenatal services for women of color.
  • Improve access to comprehensive health care by expanding Medicaid eligibility, extending postpartum coverage to 12 months for new mothers, and continuously covering children ages 0-5.
  • Invest in a culturally competent health care workforce.

Investing in maternal and child health policies can address long-standing inequities in Kansas, as well as improve health outcomes, school readiness, and long-term financial earnings.

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