The coronavirus pandemic has exposed or exacerbated a number of racial disparities in health care, including maternal care for Black women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, Black women faced a rate of pregnancy-related deaths three to four times higher than others. The rate among Black women 30 and older is four to five times higher than white women in that age range.

“These disparities aren’t new. They’re systemic,” Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) said Monday during a virtual discussion on maternal health with local and national lawmakers, public health officials and health advocates. “This is a multi-faceted problem that demands action at every level — federal, state and local.”

Mortality rates in the United States have increased by nearly 17% in the past few decades. However, it decreased in most developed nations worldwide, Brown said.

The discussion, moderated by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), comes in the wake of Black Maternal Health Week from April 11-17, which the White House also recognized to bring a focus to implicit bias, maternal mortality and community awareness.

Reps. Alma Adams (D-North Carolina) and Lauren Underwood (D-Illinois), a registered nurse, also spoke as co-chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, which was established in April 2019.

Adams (D-North Carolina) stressed her personal connection to the issue, citing her daughter’s near-death experience more than 15 years ago when pain in her abdomen while pregnant was overlooked by a physician.

“Dismissing that pain almost cost her life, as well as my granddaughter, who just turned 15,” she said. “We know that there are thousands of stories like my daughter … dealing with severe morbidities, or worse. In the richest nation in the world, we know that we can and must do better.”

One proposed solution to improve the health disparity will come from a bill Adams and Underwood reintroduced in February called the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021.

The legislation, which seeks to establish a relationship between COVID-19 and pregnancy, includes such measures as:
• Supporting moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
• Improving maternal health care and support for incarcerated moms.
• Investing in digital tools such as telehealth to improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas.

Yema-Juliet Sidique, founder and president of Project Womb and a Hyattsville resident, supports the legislation and other efforts to fight Black maternal health disparities. However, she said racial bias continues to exist in the health care industry.

“All of these policies and solutions … are beautiful and necessary, but we personally don’t believe that’s the bottom line in addressing Black maternal health needs,” she said. “We need to trust and believe Black women when we say we are in pain and when we say something is wrong.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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