Racial Bias in Health Care Is Killing Mothers Around the World
This Mother’s Day, let’s acknowledge the need for change in maternal health systems worldwide.
African American, Native American, and Alaska Native women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women in the United States, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Around the world, maternal mortality rates were nearly cut in half between 1990 and 2015 — but in the US, the rates actually increased, according to data from UNICEF.
“An American mom today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was,” Harvard Medical School Obstetrician Dr. Neel Shah told the Associated Press.
The data from CDC revealed that black women were 3.3 times more likely to die than white women from a pregnancy-related issue, while Native American and Alaska Native women were 2.5 times more likely.
Pregnancy-related mortality ratios are calculated per 100,000 live births. In the US, the national rate was 17.2 per 100,000 live births between 2011 and 2015, and while that number is lower than say, 1,165 deaths, like in Sierra Leone, the country with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, the US rate is considerably worse than in other developed countries — and racial bias could be a driving factor.
The CDC report proves is that there is a glaring racial disparity in maternal mortality rates in the US.
Pregnancy-related deaths happen before, during and up to a year after delivery. About 3 in 5 could be prevented. Read the new #VitalSigns report to learn how we can identify and close gaps in access to quality care: https://t.co/fn69XWYkrypic.twitter.com/YimF5msvNS— CDC (@CDCgov) May 7, 2019
The report revealed that while 11.4 Hispanic women and 13 white women die for every 100,000 live births, the number of African American women is 42.8 and for Native American/Alaska Native women, it’s 32.5.
This issue seems to be coming up more frequently in the US. Tennis superstar Serena Williams shared her scary childbirth story just last year, highlighting racism in the health system.
Earlier this week, The Rockefeller Foundation launched its #WithoutMom campaign, which aims to raise awareness around the high numbers of preventable maternal deaths around the world.
“The world loses when we lose mothers, yet far too many women in the United States and around the world struggle to receive the care they need before, during, and after birth. It’s time to end this injustice — and that starts with prioritizing equity in maternity care,” Dr. Naveen Rao, managing director for health at The Rockefeller Foundation, said in a statement. “We need to invest in strong, nimble health systems that protect the health of mothers and their children — and we need to ensure that digital health innovation is used to its full potential to save the lives of the most vulnerable.”
Racial bias in maternal care has become a point of discussion among political candidates in the US, too. But this isn’t just an American issue.
In Canada, similar statistics exist. Research shows that perinatal and infant mortality rates are almost twice as high for Indigenous people than non-Indigenous Canadians.
In the UK, too, the underlying issue remains the same. The UK Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths reported that black maternal mortality rates were five times higher than for white women, and almost two times higher for Asian women compared to white women.
But the CDC’s report doesn’t just raise the issue of racial bias in the obvious sense, it also points to the need to understand how to monitor health issues in a way that relates to race.
For instance, the CDC reported that a primary cause of pregnancy-related death was cardiovascular disease, which disproportionately affects black women. Obesity rates are also higher for African-American women, and obesity can cause issues during and post pregnancy.
Just last week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released guidelines on treating heart disease and pregnancy.
“The rise we’re seeing in maternal deaths is largely due to acquired cardiac disease in pregnancy,” Dr. Lisa Hollier, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement. “Most of these deaths are preventable, but we are missing opportunities to identify risk factors prior to pregnancy and there are often delays in recognizing symptoms during pregnancy and postpartum, particularly for black women.”
More than 800 women die of pregnancy-related causes every day around the world. So many of these deaths are preventable, which underscores the need to invest in maternal health. This Mother’s Day, remember to take action for moms everywhere.