A new study has found that young black or Hispanic women are more likely to be screened for chlamydia than white women, suggesting that providers could have biased ideas about who's likely to get an STD.
According to EurekAlert, researchers found that among sexually active girls and women ages 14-25, black women were 2.5 times more likely to be tested for chlamydia than white women, while Hispanic women were 9.7 times more likely. Women with public health insurance were also significantly more likely to be screened, as were women who had been diagnosed with an STD or been pregnant before (though among this last group, women of color were still the most likely to get tested). Says lead study author Sarah E. Wiehe, "This may mean that providers make judgments about a woman's likelihood of infection based on her race or ethnicity. Yet in an asymptomatic condition like chlamydia, all sexually active young women should be screened."
It's possible that there are other factors at play here, but without further information, it sure looks like clinicians are making assumptions about what kind of woman gets chlamydia. This is especially disturbing as Wiehe points out other racial biases in women's healthcare: "For some common conditions like breast cancer, white women are more likely to receive a screening test like mammography. For chlamydia infections –- which are highly stigmatized STDs –- white women are less likely, while minority women are more likely, to receive screening." The disturbing implications here abound: clinicians are failing to test women of color for breast cancer, despite the fact that black women tend to get the disease younger and may be at higher risk of a more aggressive form. And they're failing to screen white women for chlamydia, essentially making the judgment that women of color are more likely to get this "stigmatized" condition. As important as prevention education is, STDs and those who contract them shouldn't be stigmatized — and clinicians shouldn't be making racial decisions about screenings all women need.
Of course, the racialization of women's health, and of healthcare in general, is sadly nothing new. Nor are racial prejudices about the sexual habits and sexual health of women of color. De-stigmatizing STDs wouldn't eliminate generations of racism in America, but it might get rid of the idea that "nice girls" just don't get these conditions, an idea that appears deeply tied up with race and class. Eliminating this prejudice wouldn't solve everything, but it would go along way towards helping all women get the care they deserve.
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