Vice President Kamala Harris Hosts Debut White House Maternal Health Day

Vice President Harris promoted health care policy improvements for Black maternal and infant health from her time in the US Senate.

Vice President Kamala Harris hosted the first-ever White House Maternal Health Day of Action Tuesday Dec. 7. CBS News reports the Biden Harris Administration announced a number of new commitments intended to improve pregnancy outcomes and reduce the risk of complications and death in the year following birth. Pointing out the fact that the The U.S. has the "highest maternal mortality rate of any wealthy nation in the world," the administration took pains to talk specifically about the maternal health struggles that are specific to Black women.

Vice President Harris spoke at a summit on Tuesday, saying the "challenge" of maternal mortality "is urgent and important."

"To put it simply, here's how I feel about this: In the United States of America in the 21st century, being pregnant and giving birth should not carry such great risk," she said. "But the truth is women in our nation — and this is a hard truth — women in our nation are dying.  Before, during, and after childbirth, women in our nation are dying at a higher rate than any other developed nation in our world."

Kimberly Seals Allers,  maternal and infant health strategist and founder of the app, Irth, told BET that it’s impossible to divorce maternal health outcomes for Black women from the reality that race impacts healthcare and the treatment that Black mothers receive even before they become pregnant. She explained, “Nobody's talking about bias and racism and the fact of the matter is, is that yes, measuring clinical outcomes are important, but hospitals are ultimately accountable to the black bodies they serve. And that's our message really.”

Seals Allers went on to say that the Biden Administration’s plan for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to propose a "birthing-friendly" hospital designation is helpful, but more is needed. This designation by HHS would specifically focus on maternity care. Hospitals that work to improve maternal outcomes and create improvements in patient safety practices would be eligible for the designation.

Seals Allers says this is a good first step.  “We're saying when it comes to designation, these hospitals also need to be vouched for by the community around the level of care. The Irth app is working toward a community-based hospital designation that's not just based on clinical measures but also on the Black patient experience. Not just what happened to you but how it happens and how you were treated.”

Seals Allers made it plain when she said, "Having a designation is great start, but having a designation that doesn't have community accountability will not get us there."

CBS News said that the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports independent research on health care issues, published a report in 2020 that found the U.S. has the "highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries." The country's "relative undersupply of maternity care providers, especially midwives" and lack of comprehensive postpartum support is what greatly contributes to the problem. The report noted that the U.S. is the only country of 10 high-income nations studied to not guarantee access to provider home visits or paid parental leave.

When speaking with CBSN, Rohini Kosoglu, a domestic policy adviser for the vice president, highlighted the racial disparity among maternal health rates. She said, "Black women and Native American women are dying at a disproportional rate, and so we must do everything we can," Kosoglu said. "As the vice president said today, this is a serious crisis that deserves immediate action."

More than 750 people died of maternal causes in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The maternal mortality rate, deaths per 100,000 live births, was 2.5 times higher for Black women than for White women during that time.

The CDC research shows that severe maternal morbidity, unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that negatively affects a pregnant woman’s health, is 1.9 times higher among Black populations than White populations.

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