Updated Apr 20, 2024 - Health

Black Maternal Health Week shines light on disparities

Illustration of a woman's hand holding a stork and baby.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Advocates behind Black Maternal Health Week hope the campaign will draw attention to the experiences and voices of Black mothers, who are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

Why it matters: The maternal mortality rate for biological Black women is 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is 2.6 times higher than white women, the latest research from the CDC's 2021 report says.

What they're saying: The annual weeklong event, organized by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, not only highlights the disparities Black women face, but also urges government and public health officials to make changes that can improve outcomes for Black women giving birth.

  • "What we wanted to do that was just uniquely different was to … bring attention to Black women-led, community-based organizations that were already doing perinatal, maternal and reproductive health work in their communities," said BMMA co-founder Angela D. Aina.

Zoom in: Maternal mortality rates in Georgia have climbed in recent years. The Georgia Department of Public Health's latest Maternal Mortality Report found 30.2 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births between 2018 and 2020.

  • That's up from 25.1 deaths between 2015 and 2017 and 25.9 deaths from 2012 to 2014.
  • More than half of pregnancy-related deaths were among Black women, 34% were among white women and 7% were among Hispanic women.
  • Top causes of death were hemorrhage, cardiomyopathy, cardiovascular and coronary issues, preeclampsia and eclampsia, embolism, and mental health conditions.

State of play: Three bills that were introduced during the 2024 legislative session that would have addressed maternal and infant health in Georgia did not advance.

  • State Rep. Park Cannon, who co-authored a report on maternal mortality in Georgia before the start of the session, told Axios that Georgia's numbers are an "emergency."

The intrigue: Taura White, associate vice president of population health and health equity at CareSource, a nonprofit that administers Medicaid plans, told Axios that about 60% of those pregnancy-related deaths occur among patients who are on Medicaid, so "we do have to look at some of the social and economic challenges" Black women face.

  • For example, in rural counties that don't have obstetricians and labor and delivery facilities, White said the focus should be on connecting patients to programs that could fill those gaps.

The bottom line: "What I always say to folks in this space is we are all a part of a village for a pregnant woman," White said. "I think this is an opportunity for us to know that we all are a piece of the puzzle to help our pregnant women and just really educating ourselves about the maternal health journey."

Go deeper