A recent analysis conducted by the United Nations Population Fund has highlighted systemic racism and sexism as the primary reasons for the increased likelihood of serious complications and death during pregnancy and childbirth among Black women in the Americas.
The report, which examined data from several countries, including the United States, revealed that Black women faced higher instances of denial of medication, and physical and verbal abuse in healthcare settings, resulting in more severe complications, delayed treatment, and poorer outcomes.
The analysis found that Black women in the Americas were more likely to experience maternal mortality, although the specific increase in risk was not specified.
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The report challenges the long-held belief that genetics or lifestyle choices were the main factors contributing to these disparities, instead emphasizing the influence of systemic biases within medical systems.
Expanding the Scope
While the United States has been a focal point in discussions on maternal mortality rates, this report broadens the perspective to encompass the entire Americas region.
Comparisons between countries were challenging due to limited data collection on maternal health by race. However, the findings shed light on the neglected issue of Black women’s maternal health throughout the Americas.
Addressing a Human Rights Crisis
Dr. Natalia Kanem, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, referred to the situation as a human rights crisis that has been overlooked by decision-makers.
The report highlights the presence of biased medical education and practices that perpetuate disparities, such as false claims regarding Black women’s physiology. It underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to address this critical issue.
Rising Maternal Mortality
The overall maternal mortality ratio in Latin America, North America, and the Caribbean has increased by approximately 15% between 2016 and 2020.
The report draws attention to the racial disparities present in the United States, where Black women are three times more likely than White women to die during or shortly after childbirth. The disparity persists across income and education levels, necessitating urgent action.
Call to Action
The United Nations has called upon medical schools, healthcare providers, and governments to take action.
Recommendations include revising medical school curricula to address biases, implementing stronger policies against denial of care and patient abuse, and exploring innovative strategies to overcome structural barriers faced by Black women. The report also highlights the need for improved data collection and surveillance to develop effective interventions.