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COVID-19 Defines Maternal & Infant Health Summit

The coronavirus pandemic and its impact on mothers and babies took center-stage at the third annual National Maternal & Infant National Summit held in the District from Sept. 16-18.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser convened the summit which took on a virtual format due to the pandemic. Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, the D.C. director of Health, at a Sept. 14 news conference, said the virtual platform of the event will be a boon to participants.

“I have attended a host of medical conferences throughout my career and this year, because of the pandemic, I attended conferences virtually, particularly the National Medical Association Annual Meeting and I happen to find them to be more engaging,” Nesbitt said.

“I was able to listen to the content of the speakers without the distractions that take place when conferences are in-person. Virtual works. However, this summit won’t be a virtual event in perpetuity.”

Dr. Faith Gibson Hubbard, the executive director of Thrive by Five DC, a comprehensive childhood health and learning initiative designed to aid District families through the early years of a child’s life, said the volume of reservations for the summit reached 6,500.

“We have doubled the number of RSVPs of last year since they will be able to participate in this conference via video,” she said. “The workshops will take place over four days. People are hungry for the information.”

Bowser launched the first summit in 2017 out of a concern of the District’s high infant and maternal mortality rate. This year, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the District, ranks fourth among the nation’s states in infant mortality with 7.38 deaths per 1,000 births. A Feb. 18 NBC News story credited the findings to Boston College School of Social Work Associate Professor Summer Sherburne Hawkins.

According to the data, D.C.’s maternal mortality rate for 2007-2015 was 33 deaths per 100,000 live births and for African American women in the city, the rate was 59.7 deaths per 100,000 live births, worse than similar categories in Panama (52) or Ecuador (59). In the Sept. 15 opening panel of the summit, “What We’ve Learned from COVID-19: The Pandemic’s Impact on Perinatal Health and Next Steps”, Bowser, along with Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Dr. Aletha Maybank, chief health equity officer of the American Medical Association and the moderator, Errin Haines, editor-at-large of The 19th, speculated on the coronavirus’s impact on mothers and infants.

“We still don’t know much about COVID-19 and pregnancy,” Maybank said. “There are recent figures saying there have been 20,000 coronavirus cases among pregnant women and we don’t know what the data shows because it is incomplete. There isn’t enough data about pregnant women in general. What we do know is pregnant women who do get the coronavirus tend to be hospitalized. Nevertheless, there is still not much known about COVID-19.”

Bowser said public officials are still in a learning mode about COVID-19 but pointed out in the District the hospitals seem to be handling the crisis as well as possible. The mayor said people who suffer from ailments other than COVID-19 should visit a hospital particularly if they have a serious medical episode such as heart attack or a stroke and even routine examinations like natal visits and infant appointments.

Kelly, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus’s Health Braintrust, characterized the federal government’s response to COVID-19 inadequate, saying “given the number of people that have died, we should have done more sooner.”

“We in the Congress could be doing more,” Kelly said. “Until we find a vaccine for COVID-19, we should follow what the doctors and the scientists say to get past this.”

During the summit, two COVID-19-oriented workshops, one exploring the disease’s unique effects on infants and children as vulnerable populations and the other dealing with the impact of systemic racism and the coronavirus on breastfeeding, occurred. The workshop took place Sept. 16 as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new study revealing 12.6 percent of live births among hospitalized prospective mothers with COVID-19 became preterm compared with 10 percent of births in the U.S. general population, according to CNN.

The study is based on data gathered involving 598 hospitalized pregnant women in 13 states between March 1 and Aug. 22. More than half of the women, 54.5 percent according to the study, had asymptomatic status when admitted to the hospital, the data showed, CNN reported.

Bowser said mothers should constantly be in touch with their health care providers, especially while the pandemic continues.

“Over 70 percent of COVID-19 casualties are Black in the District,” Bowser said. “We need people to go to their health care providers in their communities to be tested and monitored to be healthy and to have healthy babies.”

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