Annual campaign aims to improve maternal health outcomes for black women

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DURHAM, NC (WNCN) – It’s Black Maternal Health Week.

The annual campaign, which runs through Sunday, aims to prevent pregnancy-related deaths and improve maternal health outcomes among black women.

According to the CDC, approximately 700 women die during pregnancy or within one year of pregnancy each year in the United States, and this maternal health crisis is especially devastating for black women.

Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

“It hurts because I know it’s preventable,” Joy Spencer said.

Spencer is a mom and executive director of Equity Before Birth.

The mission of the Durham-based nonprofit is to save the lives of black people in childbirth and their infants and to improve health outcomes by increasing access to essential services and support.

“It hurts even more to realize that one of the things we could do to prevent these adverse health effects is to listen,” Spencer said. “Listen to black moms, listen to black women, listen to births and black parents.”

Spencer said she’s worked with many black women who felt unheard during their pregnancy.

“Unfortunately, we hear all the time about people complaining of pain and being sent home only to get a second opinion and be told to rush to the hospital,” Spencer said. “We sadly supported a mum who went to the ER in pain, had to sit up and wait about eight hours to be seen and delivered a stillborn child because the child had died for this waiting time.

The CDC finds that several factors contribute to racial disparities such as quality health care, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias.

“I think the disparities are a tragedy,” said Dr. Richard Shannon, chief quality officer at Duke Health.

“If we’re going to change these CDC findings, it’s incumbent on every health care delivery system that cares for moms, especially moms of color, to understand at the local level what’s driving these disparities. “Shannon said.

Duke Health has a relatively new program called Collaborative to Advance Clinical Health Equity, which aims to identify disparities within their system.

“We looked at over six years of data, over 35,000 deliveries, stratified them by race and ethnicity and asked the question, are there any differences,” Shannon said.

The results showed no difference between white and African American mothers in terms of mortality. However, there were differences in morbidities.

“It turns out that African American women are 1.8 times more likely to have a complication during pregnancy than white, Latino, or Asian mothers,” Shannon said.

Based on the data, Dr. Shannon says it appears two factors explain why African American mothers have a higher rate of complications within their healthcare system. The first is transportation difficulties.

“It turns out that a lot of our African American moms have to take two or three bus rides and we hadn’t really coordinated our schedules around their particular transportation needs,” Shannon said. “So we actually started matching our appointments with them to their particular transportation issues in an effort to try to increase the chances of them making it to their visit.”

Second, Duke Health finds that African American mothers in their high-risk population tend to have underlying conditions, many of which go undiagnosed due to lack of access to health care. This prompted the health system to designate a special care coordinator to work closely with high-risk mothers.

“Six or eight months into this effort, we’re seeing a 30 percent drop in maternal morbid events among the African American population,” Shannon said. “So it can be done, but it can only be done when local entities take responsibility for their contribution to this.”

Spencer hopes that raising awareness about black maternal health will improve birth outcomes, something everyone can play a part in.

“Let’s all figure out what our role is and what our paths can be and kind of participate in the collective goal of having a healthier, happier community,” Spencer said.

For more resources on Black Maternal Health Week, Click here.

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