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Bringing Awareness to Black Maternity Care

Kira Johnson, who was in exceptional health, died in 2016 after giving birth to her son. Despite signs at the hospital that her health was failing after 12 hours from having a cesarean and her family advocating for her, the hospital told her husband she wasn’t “a priority.”

Since this tragedy, her husband, Charles Johnson, has been a vocal advocate for maternal health care for women of color. He told CNN that Kira’s greatest risk factor wasn’t her exceptional health but the “racism” she faced at one of the best hospitals in the nation. 

Kira’s story depicts the plight many Black and Brown moms go through. While April is National Minority Health Month, April 11-17 is also dedicated specifically to Black Maternal Health Week. Alarming data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that as of 2021, Black women were 2.6 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy complications than their non-Black counterparts. 

The week-long awareness event is designed to spotlight the dire state of Black maternal health care, advocate for reproductive rights, and start the conversation around solutions to eliminate the high rates of maternal mortality around the world. Founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Black Maternal Health Week is held every April as part of National Minority Health Month.

Multiple factors contribute to health disparities in Black and Brown communities, such as variations in quality healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias. In one of the most modern countries in the world, these factors can mean life or death when it’s time to give birth.

Recently, the U.S. News & World Report recognized the success of High-Performing Maternity Care Hospitals in supporting Black maternal health. It identified 26 hospitals that served at least 20 Black patients per year and had newborn complication rates of less than 2.62% and c-section rates of less than 23.9% (among hospitals providing a higher level of care) or 23.6% (among hospitals not providing a higher level of care) among Black patients.None of the 26 hospitals on this list were in Texas. However, in 2023, the publication noted two hospital centers in Texas on another list of 73 maternity care access hospitals that provided some of the best maternity care for women. Those centers are Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Temple and Wise Health System-Decatur in Decatur. According to the March of Dimes, in Texas, 46.5 percent of counties are defined as maternity care deserts compared to 32.6 percent in the U.S. Women with chronic health conditions in Texas have a 43 percent increased likelihood of preterm birth compared to women with none.

Ebony Huerta Wells has over 25 years of writing and media experience. She was a former business journalist with a major newspaper and worked for other niche publications.

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