On Monday, April 13, 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris formally declared Black Maternal Health Week and is an indicator of the Biden-Kalama administration's commitment to reducing the staggering racial gaps in pregnancy-related deaths for Black Women. In a round table discussion with experts, Kamala Harris called on all Americans to recognize that Black maternal mortality was a crisis. Harris, recounted her experience as a black woman in the workplace and how she has seen women ignored or dismissed when they complain about pain or postpartum depression. She also explained that systemic inequities and implicit bias are to blame for these consequences being "very real." She stated that African American women are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. This is sadly a common expectation that the result of systematic racism still exists today. She said, "It's time for our nation to take an honest look at what we can do so all children and parents have access to nutritious food, safe environments free of toxins--no matter their race or class status."
Other surprising statistics show that in women over 30, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio (PRMR) for Black was four to five times higher than it was for white women. She also gave the statistics on the U.S. maternal mortality rates as one of the highest in developed countries, especially in the minority community. The Biden-Harris administration outlined their commitment towards taking the following actions:
1. The administration committed $30 million to reduce the disparity of black pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths. It would commit do this by providing non-biased training for health care providers
2. More funding for the Department of Health and Human Services civil rights office
3. A provision that allows states to expand postpartum Medicaid-eligible women from 60 days to up to 12 months. On Monday, Illinois became the first state to do just that. As a result, they are expected to see an improvement in the health outcomes for Black mothers.
4. Additional spending is to be put into reproductive and preventive health services.
5. The administration is also taking steps to improve access to and the continuity of maternal care in rural communities.
The private sector is also playing a part in reducing racial disparities in maternal health. For example, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) recently announced its new national health equity strategy. It also announced its goal to reduce the racial disparities in maternal health care by 50%. They plan to address the challenges through data collection, creating programs, partnering with communities, and influencing policy decisions.
Public and private partners are helping to address unacceptable racial disparities in our healthcare system. We are finally seeing US institutions admit to this problem and commit to building a health care system that delivers equity and dignity for Black women which is a huge step forward as a nation.