Two bills can change
health inequity in Va.
I am a fourth-year medical student and a future Virginia pediatrician concerned about the health inequity that infants and children face in the commonwealth. In my four years as a medical student, I already have listened to countless discouraged mothers detail their struggles in accessing food and medications for their developing children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life; however Black and Native American mothers face disproportionate barriers to breastfeeding. As a result, they have lower rates of breastfeeding overall. Donated human breast milk is an essential health resource for families who face these barriers, though many cannot afford the costs even if their child is otherwise insured through Virginia Medicaid.
We know that breastfeeding directly impacts the health and development of children far beyond six months. Infants who receive human breast milk have lower rates of common infections such as ear infections, as well as sudden infant death syndrome. Beyond infancy, children who received breast milk have lower rates of Type 1 diabetes, leukemia and lymphoma, and premature infants who receive breast milk have larger brain size and better intelligence scores in childhood.
The inequity in access to breast milk demonstrates why it is essential that the state passes House Bill 367, “Donated human breast milk; payment of medical assistance,” and House Bill 442, “Health insurance; coverage for donated human breast milk.” I call on the House Labor and Commerce Committee of the Virginia General Assembly to bring these bills to vote during the 2021 session. These bills, if passed, not only would improve access to health resources in the short term, but also positively would impact the health and development of children in Virginia for months and years to come.