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Leon Kaye headshot

New Research Center Focuses on Racial Divide in Maternal Health

The maternal mortality rate for U.S. Black women is 3.5 times higher than that of white women; a new research center seeks to eliminate that tragic gap.
By Leon Kaye
Maternal Health

The U.S. healthcare sector continues to reap massive profits, with public plans such as Medicare and Medicaid having a large part in boosting those numbers. Yet many people, including Black women, still find themselves shut out of the system, and too often with tragic results.

On that point, April is National Minority Health Month, and now, it's Black Maternal Health Week, which the Black Mamas Matter Alliance founded five years ago in the group’s quest to launch deeper conversations about Black maternal health across the U.S.

Here's what this group is trying to change: A recent study led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that in the U.S., the maternal mortality rate for Black women is about 3.5 times higher than that of white women. To show the data another way, the Commonwealth Fund has estimated that for every 100,000 pregnancies, 37 Black women die; further, a college-educated Black mother is at 60 percent greater risk for a maternal death than a white or Hispanic woman who completed the equivalent of less than a high school education.

The racial divide in maternal health across the U.S. isn’t a story that attracts much press attention. But while the private sector has been relatively silent about any need to ensure that Black women have the same level of access to quality healthcare, a new research center just outside of Boston seeks to change this dynamic.

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Last week marked the founding of the new Center for Black Maternal Health and Reproductive Justice (CBMHRJ) at Tufts University, which will be led by Dr. Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, the Julia A. Okoro Professor of Black Maternal Health at Tufts University School of Medicine.

“The opportunity to create and launch a national Center for Black Maternal Health and Reproductive Justice at this critical time will not only honor the work around maternal health equity, but also position Tufts as a leader in this field,” Dr. Amutah-Onukagha said in a public statement. “The vision of the center is to protect the Black birthing experience by advocating for quality, equitable, and respectful care in childbirth.”

Dr. Amutah-Onukagha is one of only six researchers in the U.S. who is funded by the NIH to study the racial disparities in pregnancy-related illnesses and deaths. Her work has been community-focused, as she’s made it clear that such an approach is necessary in crafting healthcare policies that can work for everyone at both the local and national levels.

Among the center’s tasks will be to train health professionals, including social workers, nurses and public health professionals. In addition, CBMHRJ has pledged to find ways to ensure that Black women can receive fair and equitable access to medical treatment that is free from the discrimination that still occurs within the healthcare space. By understanding Black mothers’ experiences and understanding the resources they need and too often cannot access, CBMHRJ seeks to narrow the racial gap in maternal care nationwide.

Image credit: Hussein Altameemi via Pexels

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye