In the United States, black female patients are more than three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related issues than white patients, and this gap has only been increasing over the past few decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports two out of three of these fatalities are preventable. Poor maternal health outcomes for black women have always existed, but it has only been within this past year advocacy groups have successfully brought this plight to the general public’s awareness, all the way to the White House.
President Biden announced this week that April 11 through April 17 is officially Black Maternal Health Week. According to the proclamation, President Biden states, “Ensuring that all women have equitable access to health care before, during, and after pregnancy is essential. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing these unacceptable disparities, and to building a health care system that delivers equity and dignity to Black, Indigenous, and other women and girls of color.”
For black women in the U.S., their chances of surviving labor and delivery are comparable to women in more impoverished nations, regardless of socioeconomic status.
According to the World Health Organization, their odds of surviving childbirth are comparable to those of women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, where significant proportions of the population live in poverty. The most common causes of maternal death are due to cardiovascular conditions, infection, hemorrhage and hypertension. Many chronic diseases, like hypertension, are more prevalent among black women. However, systemic factors are also at play. Women of color are more likely to experience less access to healthcare, especially preventive care, a lack of social services and face challenges with housing and transportation.
Hospital administrators can work to improve these disparities by implementing standardized protocols within marginalized communities and increased communication and training about racial structures among medical and nonclinical hospital staff. Many hospitals are joining universal programs to share formalized safety practices regarding maternal care.
The Advisory Board offers four collaborative solutions to address maternal care inequities within hospital systems:
- Bolster Maternal Mortality Review Committees to identify underlying root causes of preventable deaths.
- Implement in-depth training for care teams to improve communication skills, build patient trust, and mitigate implicit bias.
- Partner with community organizations to expand the care team with roles that foster relationship building.
- Form a community-wide, multi-stakeholder collaborative to improve maternal care quality and outcomes.
Through his proclamation, President Biden is committing to increased investment in reducing maternal mortality and morbidity through funding more training, bolstering Maternal Mortality Review Committees, expanding community-based strategies, increasing civil rights funding for healthcare and protecting rural healthcare access. He also aims to expand the pipeline for rural healthcare providers.
President Biden urges U.S. healthcare administrations to “grow and diversify the perinatal workforce, improve how we collect data to better understand the causes of maternal death and complications from birth, and invest in community-based organizations to help reduce the glaring racial and ethnic disparities that persist in our health care system.”
Read the full proclamation and steps the White House is taking here.