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Maternal morbidity rates are up among pregnant Black women

Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women. This week marks the fourth national Black Maternal Health Week.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — This week marks the forth annual Black Maternal Health Week, a week where communities throughout the country come together to raise awareness and highlight inequities surrounding Black maternal health. 

A group of black women called the Black Mamas Matter Alliance started this movement four years ago in an effort to bring about change.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 700 women die every year due to pregnancy or its complications. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women.  

In August of 2020, the New York State Health Foundation released data highlighting just how disproportionate maternal morbidity is when considering race and ethnicity. In 2018, the Severe Maternal Morbidity rate for Black women was 447 per 10,000 deliveries, compared to the rate for White woman, which was 191 in 2018.

Dr. J'Leise Sosa is a practicing OBGYN at General Physician, P.C. in Buffalo, she's also a Black woman who has been pregnant and given birth. Dr. Sosa says Black Maternal Health Week is very important, as is the opportunity we as a society have to make some life-altering changes.

"This is people giving birth," Dr. Sosa says. "No one should have to die while bringing life into this world."

But the problem, she says, like the data shows, runs deeper than race and gender.

Dr. Sosa tells 2 On Your Side, "the fact is that there's so much systemic racial inequities throughout healthcare."

Consider the numbers when looking at COVID-19 deaths within this past year. While there is no official data connected to maternal morbidity and COVID-19, studies show that struggles for women in communities of color have been exacerbated by COVID-19.

For instance, Dr. Sosa says, "We are less likely to live in areas where there's enough health care workers per mile or so, serving a community, so now women from African American communities have to travel further to get the care that they need. They may not be near groceries with fresh vegetables or fruit, or live in safe neighborhoods where they can walk for exercise."

On Tuesday, to highlight the importance of this movement, President Joe Biden signed his administration's first ever proclamation vowing to work in support of ending "these unacceptable disparities" and "building a healthcare system that delivers equity and dignity to Black, Indigenous and other women and girls of color."

For Dr. Sosa, this week is not just a learning opportunity for women in the Black community, but it's an opportunity for everyone she says to make right what's wrong. 

"We really need to look at what structures are in place that prevent people from getting the healthcare that they need," Dr. Sosa says. "We really need to pause and say, 'Hey that's not right, what can I do to support it? What can I do to help with that?' "

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