Black infant mortality rate much lower when delivered by Black doctors, researchers find
Black newborns are three times as likely to die as white newborns, but the rate is cut in half when Black babies are delivered by Black doctors, the team discovered
Rachel Hardeman, a reproductive health equity researcher, has dealt with racism and its harmful impact on the health of Black Americans throughout her career. However, she is particularly distressed by the disproportionately high mortality rates for Black babies, Washington Post reports.
Searching for the causes of the high death rates, Hardeman, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and three other researchers examined the records of 1.8 million Florida hospital births between 1992 and 2015 looking for clues.
What stuck out was a startling statistic. Although Black newborns are three times as likely to die as white newborns, when Black babies are delivered by Black doctors, their mortality rate is cut in half.
“Strikingly, these effects appear to manifest more strongly in more complicated cases,” the researchers wrote, “and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns.” Yet, their findings did not reveal a similar relationship between white doctors and white births. Nor did they discover a difference in maternal death rates when the doctor and the patient shared the same race.
“It is the first empirical evidence to describe the impact of the physician’s race on an outcome such as infant mortality,” Hardeman says.
With 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, the United States has a high infant mortality rate, and Black babies are in the gravest danger, with an infant mortality rate in 2018 of 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to a rate of 4.6 white babies per 1,000 live births, per WaPo.
When Black doctors delivered Black babies, their mortality rate was more than halved from 430 per 100,000 live births to 173 per 100,000, according to Hardeman.
Infant mortality in the United States has been decreasing, yet the gap between Black and white infants has not changed, Hardeman noted, and she blames the root cause on structural racism. She defines structural racism as the “normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics — historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal — that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.”
Hardeman and the other researchers wrote that more research was needed to understand why Black physicians outperform their white counterparts. They cautioned that it wasn’t practical for all Black families to seek Black doctors to deliver their babies, not only because there are too few of them, but also because the reasons for the disparity in care need to be understood and addressed, according to WaPo.
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