Maternal Mortalities: Racial & Ethnic Prejudice

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Dr. Ana Langer, the director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston postulates that these deaths could have been prevented had we not been in the midst of a public health and human rights emergency. Researchers posit that black women are often undervalued. They are not monitored as carefully as white women are, and when they do present with symptoms, they are often dismissed.

The reasons behind racial disparities are many and complex. One proposed outcome is the lack of access and poor quality of care, particularly among women at lower socioeconomic levels. However, growing concerns have appeared regarding the value of black women and their quality of health care. For instance, both implicit bias and structural racism affect how women are cared for in the health care system as numerous researchers have found that bias and stereotyping regarding people of color can impact the level of health care they receive. In fact, Serena Williams was having shortness of breath during her pregnancy, which led to a pulmonary embolism, but when she brought it to the attention of medical staff, they initially dismissed her concerns, wasting crucial time before her diagnosis and treatment. In this case, differential treatment came from communication gaps regarding crucial details about the patient’s medical history, which failed to get passed along. Thus, racism is a leading factor to what could have been potentially avoidable deaths among black women, and it continues to be a global problem that is resulting in the loss of countless lives.