The infant mortality rate in America is an ongoing concern for many, and statistics show that the risk of dying due to pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications is higher for African-American women than any other group.
The problem will again be at the forefront of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, which kicks off Wednesday, Sept. 12 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest.
At the five-day conference, themed “The Dream Still Demands Courage, Resilience, Leadership and Legislation,” congressional leaders have dedicated the first session to a maternal health and infant summit.
Statistics from the United Health Foundation’s 2018 Health of Women and Children Report show that the maternal death rate among Black women stands at 47.2 deaths per 100,000 births, compared to 18.1 deaths per 100,000 births for White women.
In Illinois alone, African-American women are 283 percent more likely to die from such complications.
The problem continues to worsen for all U.S. women. Nationally, death rates rose 4 percent to 20.7 deaths per 100,000 births, the report revealed.
The District of Columbia ranked high in maternal mortality with 17.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the United Health Foundation report.
Earlier this year, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Chicago) introduced the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA) Act, which would extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days after childbirth up to a year.
The legislation also would support the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health, a national alliance of hospitals providers, state health departments and women’s health organizations working to bring about standardized obstetric protocols nationally, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The partnership, which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists helped found, seeks to ensure all hospitals adopt best practices and safety training to eliminate preventable pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths and illnesses. The MOMMA Act also will call for technical assistance to bring about better reporting.
“The impact of this bill will be lives saved, here in the south suburbs and around the country,” said Kelly, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, who unveiled the legislation at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial in Harvey, Illinois, in May. “By collecting better data, establishing treatment protocols and expanding access to care, we can stop mothers from needlessly dying.
“Tragically, the rate of mothers dying in Illinois has increased over the last two years and African-American mothers have been the most affected,” she said.
Kelly’s proposal reportedly has the support of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a national organization dedicated to improving the health and wellness of the nation’s black females.
Dr. Nicole Williams, an OB/GYN who participated in a news conference held by Kelly on the legislation, said that having effective, standardized protocols are key and stressed more attention needs to be paid to mothers after they’ve delivered.
“There is still a danger in the postpartum period,” Williams told the Tribune. “There are women who have come back to the ER who are hemorrhaging or … have a heart issue or high blood pressure condition, seizures. If these women do not have coverage after the baby is out, they may not seek care because they may feel, ‘Oh I can’t afford to pay this.’
“We can’t lose these women because these women are raising the next generation,” added Williams, who participated in a Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust panel discussion on the issue.
For Black women, the higher risk of pregnancy complications and maternal death cuts across socioeconomic levels.
Research has shown that discrimination and environmental factors create chronically elevated stress levels among Black women and inflammatory conditions that affect their DNA and that can make them age faster, less healthy, more susceptible to weight issues and at greater risk of complications during and after pregnancy, said Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative.
“What we need both in research and in prenatal care and postnatal care is for physicians to understand what we at the Black Women’s Health Imperative call the lived experiences of Black women because we don’t just show up,” Blount said. “We’re pregnant. We’ll get prenatal care, and everything will be fine. Clearly the systems of care delivery have to account for the effects of being a Black woman in society on pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes and our maternal health.
“We need to train doctors and nurses and midwives on what to look for and consider in the practice of care,” she said. “We must urge Congress to take more meaningful action to improve maternal outcomes for Black women and all women. The MOMMA Act is a crucial step toward that goal.”