According to a new CDC report, Black women still have the highest maternal mortality rate than white, and Hispanic women reported U.S. News & World Report. This rate preceded the COVID-19 pandemic and is predicted to have gotten worse due to pregnant women contracting the virus.
Using 2019 data, the study found that black women were nearly three times more likely to die in childbirth pre-pandemic compared to white women – a disparity that has a long history in this country due primarily to structural racism, said Dr. Neel Shah, a Harvard Medical School professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine.
“One of the clear and leading indicators that structural racism is a clear and present danger to people’s lives is maternal mortality,” the physician said.
The rate for Black women is nearly four times higher than for Hispanic women.
Dr. Sharon Ingram of the Woman’s Group of Tampa told WFTS, “We need to do better for our mothers. We need to understand that there are many different factors at play here… 60% of maternal mortality can be prevented.”
One of the challenges mothers face in seeking prenatal care is facing implicit biases from medical professionals who cannot check these before providing care. Black women’s concerns often go ignored, and questions are unanswered early, which may indicate a problem.
Dr. Ingram, who lost her first child to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), said pre-conception health is critical to the mother’s survival.
“I have a golden rule. If you have medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, they need to be controlled for at least six months before getting pregnant,” she said. “That’s why those pre-conception visits are important.”
Shah noted funding in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus package that passed last month for reducing maternal mortality. Money was given to states to expand Medicaid eligibility and extend coverage to a year postpartum.
“Surviving is a very low bar when we’re talking about people giving birth,” Shah said. “We should be aiming way, way higher.”
Aiming higher, Shah described ensuring patients are treated with dignity and respect and that there are more providers – specifically those of color – available for service.