Black Maternal Health Draws Key Allies for the Movement

Image: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images.

On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Vice President Kamala Harris was clear. Improving maternal health is a major focus at the top of her vice-presidential to-do list. The former U.S. Senator used the term three times during her interview with Margaret Brennan, adding that it was one of the issues she “cares deeply” about. The mention alone presented a deep contrast from the male administrations of yesteryear. For the first time ever, a woman is in the vice presidential seat, putting women’s issues front and center.

Earlier this year Harris made a proclamation for Black Maternal Health Week that emphasized the importance of addressing this crisis. And then earlier this month, The White House put out a fact sheet detailing Harris’ call to action to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity. 

“Being with the people who are directly impacted by this work, listening to them so that they, not some pundit, tells us what their priorities are, I think is critically important,” Harris said on the matter. 

In the United States, it’s no secret that maternal mortality for Black women is among the highest in the developed world. Black women are up to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as white women. Black babies die at roughly twice the rate at white infants.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing these unacceptable disparities, and to building a health care system that delivers equity and dignity to Black, Indigenous, and other women and girls of color,” the Proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week stated. And the administration is not fighting alone.

In October, Blue Cross of North Carolina pledged to narrow the gap of the state’s racial, health disparities through new funding initiatives. North Carolina has the 11th highest infant mortality rate in the country. The insurer committed $2 million to support evidence-based strategies that significantly improve infant and maternal health outcomes, specifically addressing disparities in Black, American Indian and Hispanic communities. 

“Each and every person who gives birth deserves a safe and affirming pregnancy and delivery experience,” Cheryl Parquet, director of community engagement and marketing activation at Blue Cross NC said in a statement shared with EBONY. “Some of our communities are seeing devastating outcomes on an unacceptably large scale. That’s why we’re investing in the programs and strategies that are making progress toward improving infant and maternal health outcomes for those most vulnerable.”

The announcement from the state based provider came months after the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) announced that it was launching an improved national health equity strategy that underscored the racial health disparities, starting with the maternal health crisis. And in the coming months, Blue Cross of North Carolina plans to announce additional programs that include providing capacity building resources to support nonprofits with a mission to promote health equity, led by and for communities of color.

In 2021, large corporations like Baby Dove pledged their own support for helping to close the Black maternal care gap, and San Francisco, in 2020, announced the Perinatal Equity Initiative under the leadership of Mayor London Breed. Last month the Deliver Birth Justice campaign launched with an event in the Bay Area. The importance of this movement continues to be amplified. 

“For the first time maternal health is on the stage at the White House, where we’re bringing people in from around the country to talk about maternal mortality, to talk about issues like postpartum care and why we should expand Medicaid coverage so it’s not just 60 days,” Harris said in her interview, noting that “it’s the right thing to do regardless of your gender, regardless of your race. And it affects so many women around our country.”

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