How Health Information and Stigma Has Changed in the Modern Era

Last Updated by Katie Moriarty on
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Though much has changed since the 1960s, issues of widespread disease and women's health are ongoing conversations, even today. Katie Moriarty examines these topics as they arise in Episode 3.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.

Spoiler Alert: This post discusses events in Call the Midwife Season 5 Episode 3

“Not everyone in Poplar was moving to the brand new homes of the sky. Countless streets and tenements were still home to sprawling close-knit families.

The streets were deeply sunk in East End soil. They preferred to do without more modern conveniences... to favor a place where neighbors were cousins, siblings, in-laws, aunts. Where no door was locked; where each house held familiar comforts of the reassurance of a loving touch. They felt so safe.”

Family was central in this episode. We saw the beauty and strength of a close-knit family along with the disruption they experienced during the search of the source and carrier of a rare disease: typhoid. 

Another storyline dealt with Sister Winifred and her difficulty to be able to accept a young single woman’s unplanned pregnancy with a married man and then ultimately the guilt she has with the unfolding of events. 

She has terrible guilt when she feels her prejudices stood in the way of being able to connect and help this struggling and suffering young woman. Lastly, a touch of romance and sparks of promise with Barbara and Tom; however, Barbara is filled with worry of how to tell Trixie. Unfortunately with their hectic schedules and missed opportunities she does not tell her — yet in the end Trixie does see.

Several things went through my mind as I watched this episode that highlighted the similarities and differences between the 1960s and modern day; they included fear and stigma, prejudices, options and support and self-judgment. 

In 2016 we are dealing with some new challenges such as in recent years SARS, H1N1 swine flu, Ebola and, now, the Zika virus. We still deal with the fear and stigma; however, the one difference I did feel is that the speed of information availability is profound in modern times. 

We have the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other fabulous websites that can really give us up-to-date and evidence-based information about health challenges and potential health threats (see below for a link to the CDC for information on typhoid, vaccinations during pregnancy and information for pregnant travelers). An amazing site to check out is HealthMap (see below in resource section for the link). 

Just like Poplar, each of our own communities are threatened by infectious transmissible diseases and we can all, unknowingly, be exposed to growing epidemics and local outbreaks. 

With HealthMap, information can be made available to people in real time! Every hour the automated processing system collects information from multiple sources, and disease and location patterns are extracted from the myriad of sources and reported with 90 percent accuracy. It is a free database that is available online and on mobile devices. 

You can view and filter information based on disease, location and numbers of reported cases. You can also educate yourself on symptoms. The site states that they help us to be prepared, educated, alert and proactive with infectious diseases. However this does not help as we anxiously wait for effective cures or vaccinations — but information is power.  

The character Dorothy Whitmore brought to light the historical and still relevant issue of women around the world who try to end their unintended pregnancies. Whether abortion is legal or not, one can jeopardize their safety and health by self-inducing or seeking a dangerous illegal procedure. 

Research has reported that while there is very little relationship between abortion legality and abortion incidence, there is a strong correlation between abortion legality and abortion safety. The Guttmacher Institute is a site to take a look at for rich information about the risks to human life with banning abortion (see the links below for an infographic and fact sheet). 

The estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s are thought to be as high as 1.2 million per year. And it is reported that prior to Roe v. Wade, as many as 5,000 American women died annually as a direct result of unsafe abortions. 

In this modern era things have improved. However, we often still have restrictive abortion laws or have barriers to the procedure which can endanger and block a woman’s right to a timely procedure and this increases their risk of complications. In this modern era we still need to protect women’s reproductive options.

“By 1961 the State had lost its appetite for prosecuting lonely, desperate women. So when sufficiently recovered Dorothy Whitmore was allowed to go; but, if she was not charged she was punished, dismissed from teaching. 

She went elsewhere to forget, be forgotten and to start afresh -- like legions of others. Shame is born in public and lived out secretly. What is not seen cannot be swept away. But, so much can be made bearable by love, by cherishing what is, and not condemning fault or flaw and never locking doors. By keeping hearts open and holding each other forever in the light.”


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site for Typhoid. 

CDC information regarding vaccinations during pregnancy.  

CDC Advising pregnant travelers

Guttmacher Institute: Banning abortion endangers women’s lives: Guttmacher Institute.  

Guttmacher Institute: Facts on induced abortion worldwide: Guttmacher Institute. 


KatieMoriarty.jpg Katie Moriarty, PhD, CNM, CAFCI, FACNM, RN is a professor on faculty at Frontier Nursing University and a Certified Nurse-Midwife with WSUPG CNM Service at Hutzel Women’s Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Katie serves on the Board of Directors for the American College of Nurse-Midwives as the Region IV Representative. Previously she was the Associate Director of the Nurse-Midwifery Education Program at the University of Michigan.
Read More About Katie |  Read All Posts by Katie

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