THE NEUTRAL ZONE
As COVID-19 disproportionately impacts communities of color, the pandemic has laid bare the disparities of care for black mothers.
While multiple factors, including household size, pre-existing conditions, and essential worker status, have contributed to the increased spread of coronavirus in communities of color, studies in the U.S. and U.K. named established racial bias and systemic issues in healthcare as the central factor. According to the latest data from the CDC, the maternal mortality rate, measured from pregnancy through the first year after birth, for Black women is more than double that of white women and more than triple that of Hispanic women. The CDC has also found 60% of all pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Medicaid rules have amplified these disparities, as uninsured women lose coverage after 60 days postpartum.
Dr. Heather Irobunda, an New York OB-GYN, noted that factors that increase the maternal mortality rate are also related to the higher rate of COVID-19 infections in the Black populations. In a study from the Guttmacher Institute, 44% of Black respondents said they planned to either have children later or have fewer children due to the pandemic. The overall shift in sentiment could result in 500,000 fewer births in the U.S. as soon as next year.
In a stark recent example of the internal issues in medicine, 26-year-old Sha-Asia Semple died in labor at Woodhull Hospital after coming in for a stress test. Semple went into cardiac arrest after receiving a medication to induce labor and an epidural. The family has called for the hospital to be shut down, though they have not yet filed a lawsuit.
Correcting the inequities in maternal healthcare, especially in the face of COVID-19, is a work in progress across multiple sectors. In July, Mandy Major, CEO of Major Care, founded the virtual postpartum doula agency to provide attainable and low-cost doula care to women around the country. March of Dimes announced a partnership with Anthem Foundation Monday to provide grants to 20 hospitals around the country to address equity in the maternal and infant health fields. In July, Melinda Gates wrote a guest column in Foreign Affairs Magazine about the health crisis, noting that the reduction of maternal health care during the coronavirus pandemic could result in 113,000 deaths. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Ayanna Presley, D-Mass., co-founded the Black Maternal Mortality Caucus and Emergency Task Force in 2018 with the Congressional Black Caucus to address the Black maternal mortality crisis. The same year, Serena Williams and Beyonce both discussed their own potentially fatal complications with their pregnancies.
America is failing Black moms during the pandemic – Vox – 8/10/2020
Long before the pandemic hit, Black pregnant and birthing people around the country were reporting that doctors disregarded their concerns, ignored their wishes, and put them at risk. […] Black women are disproportionately impacted, dying in childbirth at three to four times the rate of white women. Now, birthing people and their advocates say the Covid-19 crisis is only exacerbating the discrimination that Black patients and other patients of color already face from providers — one of the main drivers behind their higher rates of maternal mortality.
The U.S. Health Care System Is Failing Black Mothers – Harper’s BAZAAR – 7/30/2020
As the Black Lives Matter movement fights for Black lives in the streets, courthouses, and halls of power, Washington’s tragic fate shines a light on the urgent need to reform our failing healthcare system to protect Black mothers. While the Black maternal health crisis has made headlines in recent years, including essential reporting in Pro Publica and the New York Times, and a ground-breaking policy report, it can often be a photo, a face, that relays the message most powerfully. It was Washington’s photo, so pretty and relatable, that helped to propel the story across social media, particularly on image-centric platform Instagram.
Why do UK Black women experience gynecological care disparities? – Medical News Today – 8/11/2020
They all reveal a similar story: that Black women’s “cries” for help are routinely unheard, unseen, and misunderstood. As a result of this, these women are disproportionately suffering in healthcare. This is a reminder that Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an expansive and inclusive movement that brings all Black lives to the forefront of the ongoing fight against systemic racism.
Amid Multiple Crises, Black Women Build Health Care Networks – Time – 7/17/2020
In early May, a group of 20 Black mothers in rural Mississippi logged onto a virtual group therapy session to discuss the immense, compounding pressures of providing for their families and caring for their children during a global pandemic and historic unemployment crisis. It was the first time any of them had talked to a traditional mental health counselor, and the results were cathartic. […] Magnolia Medical Foundation’s pilot series was designed to address the unique challenges facing Black mothers in recent months as they navigate a pandemic that has disproportionately claimed Black lives, an unemployment crisis that has exposed the failures of the American social safety net, and the explosion of a national movement combatting the systemic violence perpetrated against Black people.
Trump Signs Executive Order to Bolster Rural Healthcare, Telehealth – Newsmax – 8/3/2020
Trump also called for officials to develop within 30 days a specific plan to boost investment in the communications infrastructure needed to boost rural healthcare, and a separate report on ways to improve overall healthcare in rural areas, reduce maternal deaths and improve mental health.