Black women in UK four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth
As new data released, campaigners ask why racial disparity in maternal mortality rates is so persistent
Black women are still four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women, according to new data that has reignited calls to tackle racial inequality in maternal healthcare.
The findings show a slight drop in the maternal mortality rate for black women, but remained the same for mixed ethnicity women and Asian women, which was two times higher and almost twice as high, respectively.
The report published by MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK) has deepened calls for action to tackle longstanding inequalities.
Tinuke Awe, the co-founder of Fivexmore, a campaign group set up to improve black maternal health, said: “It’s outrageous that these inequalities have been allowed to exist. Groups like ours and activists have been raising the alarm for over 30 years. Things should be dramatically improving with the advances in technology, but these disparities have remained. There’s something happening in the UK that we need to look at, as significant improvements have been made in other countries.
“As a campaign group we welcome the ever so slight decrease in black maternal death. Every life saved is good progress, but the fact of the matter still remains that the disparity between black and white women is still very large. The time for action is now.”
According to the report, 191 women, of the 2,173,810 giving birth, died during or up to six weeks after pregnancy between 2017 and 2019; 495 during or up to one year after their pregnancy. The report notes pregnancy remains very safe in the UK, with 8.8 women per 100,000 dying during pregnancy or up to six weeks after childbirth or the end of pregnancy.
The study found a small, but not statistically significant, decrease in the overall maternal death rate.
Heart disease, epilepsy and stroke were the leading cause of maternal death during or up to six weeks after the end of pregnancy. Sepsis and thrombosis and blood clots are the third and fourth most common causes.
An inquiry by the charity Birthrights found that black, brown and mixed ethnicity women reported feeling unsafe, their concerns being ignored or dismissed, denial of pain relief due to racial stereotypes, and pervasive microaggressions causing harm or distress. Their testimony was backed up by healthcare professionals.
Amy Gibbs, the chief executive of Birthrights, said: “While there has been a small drop in the maternal mortality rate for black women in recent MBRRACE reports, this bleak picture has not changed in over a decade. We remain deeply concerned that black and brown people’s basic human rights to safety, dignity and equality in pregnancy and childbirth are not being protected, respected or upheld.”
Last September, Fivexmore announced the launch of an all-party parliamentary group on black maternal health to tackle institutional racism in the UK healthcare system. “As well as the focus placed on mortality, we need to look at all the other women who have suffered harm in some way, suffered from illness, or suffered substantial injuries because they’re pregnant or want to have a child.
“There’s currently no way to quantify the issue. We can count the deaths but we don’t know how terrible things are.”