Juanita Millender-McDonald

Women's Caucus Testimony - May 16, 2002

Juanita Millender-McDonald
May 16, 2002
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Thank you Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Obey for providing the Women's Caucus with this opportunity to identify critical issues concerning women. As the Co-Chair of the Caucus, I am proud to see such a strong showing today by the women of the House.

I have always been a strong advocate for women's health issues including, HIV/AIDS research, prevention education and treatment programs. As you prepare to mark-up the FY 2003 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriation bill, I would respectfully request the restoration of FY 2002 funding levels for the Office of Minority Health under the Department of Public Health Service, funding for mother-to-child HIV/AIDS transmission prevention efforts, and funding for programs for the prevention of Heart Disease and Stroke in Women.

In our efforts to promote and preserve women's well - being, we must address illnesses that plague women, such as heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of American women. Studies suggest that women are more likely than men to die from a heart attack, and women who recover from a heart attack are more likely than men to have a stroke or another heart attack. Each year more than 500,000 women die of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, 44 percent of women die within a year following a heart attack compared to 27 percent of men. Greater funding for prevention programs is indeed vital. I ask that you fully fund the Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention programs under the Center for Disease Control (CDC)) at $5 million.

It is estimated that 10 percent of all individuals who become infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide are children. Studies have shown that mother-to-child transmission is the largest source of HIV infection in children under age 15 and the only source for very young children. This in turn has affected the total number of births to HIV-infected pregnant women each year in developing countries. The current statistic for births to HIV-infected mothers is approximately 3,200,000. Fortunately there are ways to prevent this through education and prophylaxis to protect women of childbearing age from becoming infected with HIV in the first place and through counseling and voluntary testing to help infected women accept their HIV status and for them to know the risk it poses to their unborn child. Also, newborns can receive doses of nevirapine and other medicines to prevent the occurrence of AIDS. In order to carry out programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS, I respectfully request that $5,000,000 is appropriated for FY 2003.

And finally, I want to address the matter of racial health disparities in birth outcomes. The Administration's FY 2003 budget proposed a cut of $3 million in the Office of Minority Health under the Department of Public Health Service. I am requesting that this amount be restored to the FY 2002 funding level of $50 million, which is 100 percent of the funding needed to help eliminate the currently shocking racial health disparities in birth outcomes, as recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General under the Healthy People 2010 target goals.

Disparities in the health care delivered to racial and ethnic minorities are real and are associated with worse outcomes in many cases, which is unacceptable. It is generally acknowledged that an African American baby born today is still twice as likely to die within the first year of life than a white baby.

According to expert studies, this is not only true in terms of birth disparities between white and black babies, but also across racial and ethnic groups in terms of infant mortality, low birth weight and premature births. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention data show that infant mortality rates are 14 deaths per 1,000 live births for blacks vs. 6 per 1,000 for whites. The current imbalance in low birth weight rates is similar.

The real challenge lies not in debating whether disparities exist, because the evidence is overwhelming, but in developing and implementing strategies to reduce and eliminate them. We must be aggressive on this issue. We must exercise all available options to address and resolve this tragic racial gap at birth and during the lifetime of our minority citizens. The prevailing gap must be closed by immediate action and through U.S. Government support and assistance.

Increased funding for research, education and prevention is needed to address serious diseases that threaten the lives of millions of American women and minorities each year. Despite the progress being made on different fronts, there is still much to do. I hope that we can all work together to ensure that promoting women's health, including minority women, and that of their children, is a priority in the years to come.

In closing, I would to thank you again Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member Obey, for giving us this opportunity to testify before your subcommittee. My colleagues, Marcy Kaptur and Karen Thurman, have joined me this morning to bring our message home. We, the Women's Caucus, 62 Members strong, look to your efforts to help us provide effective legislative responses to these important issues affecting women and we ask for your support in favorably considering funding programs that will have sustained impact and results. We owe this to the women of America who deserve the highest level of attention to their well - being and security.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.