Black maternal health disparity gets new focus after Biden proclamation

EXCLUSIVE: The mortality and morbidity rates for Black women remains an alarming national issue

Every 12 hours a mother giving birth dies in this nation, according to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. The secretary notes that the United States has “rates that are higher than any other developed country when it comes to dying when giving birth.”

The stark reality has an overwhelming and disproportionate impact on Black families when it comes to America’s Black maternal mortality and morbidity rates. The recently confirmed HHS Secretary adds, “the sticking point as we talk about Black maternal health, two out of every three women are Black women [who] die giving birth, as do white women … And so, we need to do something in America.”

Read More: Black mom on premature birth, racial disparities in maternal health: ‘I carry that with me’

The issue is not a new issue but has been given a bright spotlight this week by the White House as President Joe Biden issued a proclamation making this week Black Maternal Health Week

Then-Senator Kamala Harris had been dealing with this issue for years before she was elected U.S. vice president. Earlier this week at the White House, Vice President Harris held a symposium along with Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice on the matter. 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks about the Biden administration’s decision to the release of $39 billion of American Rescue Plan. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Also, if you listened carefully, you could hear other voices around the nation discussing the issue. Others are chiming in to do their part on raising awareness on the deadly issue including singer and actress Jill Scott, who gave personal observations about childbirth on her podcast

Tonya Lee, filmmaker and director, is actively working on a documentary on Black maternal health as well. She recalled her own experience thinking about caring for herself with a midwife and doula compared to what sometimes seems like a cold medical system that does not always take in the aches and pains of a Black mother as real issues of concern.  

“Doctors are trained to treat a problem,” Lee told theGrio. “Pregnancy is not a problem. It’s not an illness. It is an existing. So midwives and doulas have an ability to really say, ‘what’s going on with you? What do you want? How is this going to work for you?’ Whereas the doctor’s like, oh, there’s a problem, we’ve got to fix it. And they’re waiting for a problem. And sometimes when you wait for a problem, you can create a problem.”

Tonya Lee Lewis and Spike Lee attend the “She’s Gotta Have It” Season 2 Premiere at Alamo Drafthouse on May 23, 2019 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Such was the case for theGrio’s Vice President of Digital Content, Natasha Alford, who detailed her high-risk pregnancy experience in Vogue. Alford was told an induction needed to take place almost a month before her due date to improve her baby’s chances of survival. To help support her through the process from this point, she hired a doula. 

Kimberly Seals Allers, maternal and infant health strategist and founder of the app, Irth, qualifies the issues for Black maternal health. 

“The problem with Black maternal health in 2021 is that we still haven’t dealt with this root issue of racism and bias in maternity care. We know that literally the obstetrics field and the OBGYN field was built on Black women’s bodies using Black women for experimentation,” Allers told theGrio.

“Unfortunately, this culture of dehumanizing us, this culture where we are not seen as full humans and valued and listened to and heard about our pain and what we’re dealing with on our bodies is … very much a vibrant part of the culture today.”

Allers said she created her app to be a part of the solution for this continued devastating issue in medicine for Black women. 

“When I created Irth as this Yelp-like review and rating platform for Black and brown women … it was purely to root out these experiences of racism and bias for us to find a place to use our collective power and to put our experiences together in one place and push for change and to turn those qualitative experiences into quantitative data,” she said.

“So now we can go to those providers and show them exactly what’s happening to us in mass and in numbers that they can’t ignore.”

The Biden Administration is responding to the issue with actions to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity by doing the following:

  • Investing $200 million to: implement implicit bias training; create State pregnancy medical home programs; bolster Maternal Mortality Review Committees; expand the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies; and help cities place early childhood development experts in pediatrician offices with a high percentage of Medicaid and CHIP patients.
  • Increasing funding for the HHS Office for Civil Rights by 24 percent, to $47.9 million, to ensure protection of civil rights in healthcare;
  • Providing $340 million, an increase of 18.7 percent, to the Title X Family Planning program, which will improve access to vital reproductive and preventive health services and advance gender and health equity;
  • Prioritizing investments in programs that protect rural health care access and expand the pipeline of rural healthcare providers; and
  • Supporting women and young children by providing $6 billion for WIC.

So far, the administration has obtained approval of the First Medicaid Section 1115 Waiver to Broadly Extend Postpartum Coverage, which will provide an additional $12 million in funds for Maternal Obstetrics Care in Rural Communities.

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