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Black History Month: Allegheny Co. Health Dept.'s Program Manager Working To Improve Women's Health

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Long before she worked in health services, Dannai Wilson was a young, teenage mother. She credits a home visitor from a program called Healthy Start, who was influential in her path forward.

"She really saw beyond being a mother for me. What do you actually need? What does it take?" Dannai Wilson, the Allegheny County Health Department's program manager. "She told me the most important thing you do is give back to your community."

Dannai was so inspired, she returned to Healthy Start.

"I left Healthy Start and came back a year and a half later to work for them, to be a home visitor myself, and try to do the same things for women and encourage," she said.

Healthy Start is just one of the programs that's part of a collaborative to improve maternal and child health and reduce infant mortality in Allegheny County.

Last year's research from the City of Pittsburgh's report on inequality across gender and race found fetal deaths are twice more likely among Pittsburgh's black women, compared to white women. Even worse, the city's black fetal mortality rate is higher than 94% of similar cities nationwide. When it comes to the city's mortality rate for black mothers, that's higher than 97% of similar cities.

"Regarding maternal mortality, it's something that we hadn't really focused on in the last couple of years, but I think nationally, we're paying more attention to it," Wilson told KDKA's Lisa Washington.

"I would push back a little and say women's health, not maternal health, because women's health over their life course is very important. So, if we're not taking good care of women, then she cannot have a good body to be maternal and prepare her body for a baby," she added.

Wilson says programs like Healthy Start, Nurse-Family Partnerships and others are successful when those in charge of health services listen to those they're serving.

"They need to have access to all of the family planning methods that are available, not just what we think they should have, but what do they choose to have," Wilson said.

She also strongly believes that other factors should be considered when it comes to the overall health of women, particularly black women.

"The reality of being a black woman in Allegheny County, or the city of Pittsburgh, for many women, is always trying to compare yourself or having to fight harder or work harder to be recognized or valued. As a culture, how do we treat each other, and how do we see each other as partners in this work and allies for the issues we're trying to address," she said.

Wilson says she's optimistic that the numbers and conditions will improve, and she's determined to be part of the change.

To learn more about the Maternal Child Health Programs available in Allegheny County, call 412-247-7950.

To see the report on inequality across race and gender in Pittsburgh, visit this link.

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