Md. doctor on ‘staggering statistic’ that points to need for Black Maternal Health Week

What a Maryland doctor calls a “staggering statistic” related to surviving pregnancy helps inform the need for a national week devoted to Black maternal health.

Black Maternal Health Week is recognized every year from April 11-17.

“It’s a time for people to have conversations around the staggering statistics involving Black maternal health. Black women, Black and brown women are three to four times more likely to have complications or die from complications of pregnancy and delivery than white women,” said Dr. Ada Emarievbe, an OB-GYN at Kaiser Permanente in Columbia, Maryland.

“In 2020, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The increases from 2019 to 2020 for non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women were significant.”

“This was really a public health crisis,” Emarievbe said.

Contributing factors to pregnancy-related deaths include chronic diseases, dismissing warning signs, barriers to quality care, and lack of coordinated care.

“So, making sure that there are systems in place that recognize the importance of a diverse health force, that recognize the importance of access to good high-quality care, and recognize the importance of communication, how well can a patient really reach out to their health care provider to express their concerns about a condition or a problem they’re having in pregnancy,” she said.

A Proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week 2022, signed by President Joe Biden states in part:

The inequities that Black mothers face are not isolated incidents but, rather, the byproduct of systemic racism in our society that has festered for far too long. To root it out, and improve health outcomes, we must address a broad range of areas where unequal access persists along racial lines — including access to health care, adequate nutrition and housing, toxin-free environments, high-paying job sectors that provide paid leave, and workplaces free from harassment and discrimination.

Dr. Ada Emarievbe is an OB-GYN at Kaiser Permanente at the Columbia gateway Kaiser Permanente office in the Baltimore service area.(Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

On an individual basis, Emarievbe encourages women to be their own advocates — study up, understand potential complications and high-risk conditions, and get in shape.

“Pre-pregnancy being at your best health will get you your best outcomes,” she said. “So, eating clean, hydrating, getting plenty of sleep, knowing what your health conditions are prior to getting pregnant is really important.”

Women with chronic conditions, such as high-blood pressure or diabetes need to have the conversation with their primary OB-GYN before getting pregnant.

“Just to discuss what does this entail. What are some things I can do before getting pregnant that would get me the best outcomes?” she said.

While Emarievbe acknowledged that the nation’s health-care-related diversity gap is wide and there’s a long way to go, she’s hopeful outcomes can improve.

“I’m confident as we continue to have these conversations, not just during Black Maternal Health Week, but many other weeks outside of this week, we will definitely be able to close that gap,” she said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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