• Race and Health Subcommittee

Why do BAME mothers die at higher rates?: Reflections from Race and Health's discussion group

Last Monday, the Race and Health subcommittee held its third discussion group of the academic year entitled, “Why mothers die: the racial disparities in maternal health.” The event was well-attended with twenty participants, excluding the subcommittee members. We were motivated to focus on this public health issue because of a 2020 MBRRACE-UK report, which revealed that in the UK Black women are four times and Asian women are two times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than their white counterparts. This measure is a decrease from fivefold for Black women (and a stagnation for Asian women) according to the MBRRACE-UK’s 2018 report on this topic, but this small change is not enough. More importantly, what indicates the “end” to racial disparities in maternal mortality? Is it when the rates of minority ethnic and white women are the same? These contentions were some of the issues we explored in our discussion group in addition to the history of obstetric racism, physiological effects of racial discirmination, and increasing shifts toward “culturally competent” obstetric care.

The discussion ended on a more inspiring note by examining interventions for this public health issue. While systemic changes are clearly critical, we focused on community-led solutions, like doula services and the JJ Way, that can engender meaningful change. The image above is a screenshot of a Menti word cloud created by participants in response to the question: “What types of solutions can we implement to fight racialized disparities within maternal mortality?”. Despite the overwhelmingly alarming reality of this public health crisis, it is important to be hopeful as hope sustains attention and drives action. Our goal for this discussion group was to educate people about the racialized experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, and we hope to continue raising this awareness beyond our event. We have shared below a list of media on racial disparities in maternal health. We encourage you, reader, to watch and read and share these sources with others.

Additional sources

Obstetric racism: its historical roots and physiological impact

Racial disparities in maternal health: an overview of this public health crisis

Ways to intervene

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