Hot Topic: Why are black women more likely to die from childbirth?


Black women in the UK are five times more likely to die from childbirth, postpartum and pregnancy than their white counterparts and three times more likely if they are living in the US.

Stress levels, access to health care, diabetes and poverty are some of the reasons for these figures. Those figures are particularly alarming considering the UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world with one of the best healthcare systems. 

Research by Oxford University in December 2019 in the UK, showed that there is a growing cause of disparity between the treatment of women of colour and white women when it comes to childbirth. 

‘The disparity in mortality rates between women from different ethnic groups is of particular concern. We know that women from some ethnic groups have more pre-existing conditions, but further research is urgently needed to fully explain why more black and Asian women die and to develop actions to prevent women from dying in the future,’ Professor Knight added. 

Health Policy Analyst Dawn Godbolt stated on an article for that, "A Black woman with a college degree is more likely to die during childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than a white woman. All Black women are vulnerable to this crisis."

However, this is an issue not based on poverty, lack of education or lack of access alone as tennis star Serena Williams faced birth complications in 2017 during the birth of her first child, Olympia. Serena suffered from blood clots and pulmonary embolism right after the delivery of her daughter along with other issues that were not shared with the public.

Over the cause of Serena becoming a new mother, she has shared her story with many women to raise the awareness of the danger women, especially women of colour share during childbirth. 

Serena's story is not the first but a story that reflects the struggle most women of colour face in the UK and also the USA. This reflects the systematic racial bias within the health institutions. The misconception of the strong black woman with thick skin sometimes goes against us all but also the fact women of colour can be seen as an annoyance when asking for help can prevent many to not ask for help. As a woman of colour, my journey within the health system hasn't been the best, when reaching out for help whether it is physical or emotional support. 

This is not new to many who have been or going through this now, and it reflects the story of many of my close friends and also women I have interviewed for this opinion piece for GMSW. This treatment does prevent some women of colour from seeking the help they need and in turn, turn to private health care, traditional or alternative medicine for the ones who can afford it. 

This racial bias stems from institutional behaviours and the culture in which some health care systems have been managed and run for decades. 

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Educational reform is necessary to tackle these racial bias at the foundation and high levels of doctors training to change a culture that has always been there.

Dr Christine Ekechi, a Consultant Gynaecologist, is undoubtedly working with medical institutions to change this culture.

"If we are working in the health care profession, we have a greater responsibility to work through that bias, particularly if we think it may be impacting on care," said added.

In a statement by NHS England to Channel 4 news, they added, "working on reducing health inequalities and by 2024 75% of women from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities will receive continuity of care from their midwife throughout their pregnancy." 

Even though this is great to hear, it begs many unanswered questions.

Why wait so long to offer this service now? This is something that should have been happening and not something as women of colour we should be campaigning for? This is a fundamental right of all women.

Following a petition to improve the maternal care for Black British Women, the Government responded in October 2019 saying:

"The Government is funding research at the Maternal and Neonatal Health and Care PRU to investigate the factors associated with the excess risk of maternal death for Black and South Asian women."

Hopefully, this report will lead to a substantial acknowledgement of the health of black women and how seriously this issue needs to be taken. But in the meantime, how do we make things better? A question most women of colour ask themselves every day. This is through uncomfortable conversations and education of all women through sports platforms, jogging groups, or simply over a cup of tea - building allies who understand this issue helps educate more people. 

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