Syndemic perspectives to guide black maternal health research and prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic

Individual Author(s) / Organizational Author
Lemke, Michael;
Brown, Kyrah
July 2020
Maternal and Child Health Journal
Abstract / Description

The coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and related policies have led to an unequal distribution of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. For Black women and birthing people, endemic vulnerabilities and disparities may exacerbate deleterious COVID-19 impacts. Historical and ongoing macro-level policies and forces over time have induced disproportionately higher rates of maternal morbidity and mortality among Black women and birthing people, and contemporary macroeconomic and healthcare policies and factors continue to hold particular consequence. These factors induce detrimental psychological, health, and behavioral responses that contribute to maternal health disparities. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to disproportionately impact Black women and birthing people, as policy responses have failed to account for the their unique socioeconomic and healthcare contexts. The resulting consequences may form a ‘vicious cycle’, with upstream impacts that exacerbate upstream macro-level policies and forces that can further perpetuate the clustering of maternal morbidity and mortality in this population. Understanding the impacts of COVID-19 among Black women and birthing people requires theoretical frameworks that can sufficiently conceptualize their multi-level, interacting, and dynamic nature. Thus, we advocate for the proliferation of syndemic perspectives to guide maternal disparities research and prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic. These perspectives can enable a holistic and nuanced understanding of the intersection of endemic and COVID-19-specific vulnerabilities and disparities experienced by Black women and birthing people. Syndemic-informed research can then lead to impactful multi-level prevention strategies that simultaneously tackle both endemic and COVID-19-specific factors and outcomes that lead to the clustering of vulnerabilities and disparities over time. (author abstract)

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