Medical school curricula, for example, include erroneous claims that black women’s nerve endings are « less sensitive » and require less anesthesia, and that black women’s blood clots faster than white women’s, leading to a treatment delayed for dangerous bleeding, according to report. She also found that textbook illustrations of childbirth depicted the pelvic anatomy of European women, which could lead to unnecessary interventions when non-white variability was considered « abnormal or high risk. »
“When a black woman dies in childbirth, whether it’s in Sao Paulo, Bogota or New York, it is often attributed to her lifestyle or individual failure: she didn’t get there in time to see the doctor or nurse, she made poor life decisions, was predisposed to certain medical conditions. And then the world moves on, » said Dr. Kanem.
The new report, he said, « categorically refutes that. »
Background: Maternal deaths are on the rise.
The overall maternal mortality ratio of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in Latin America, North America and the Caribbean increased about 15 percent between 2016 and 2020, sparking interest from officials about possible contributing factors, including the race. There are more than 200 million people of African descent in the Americas: one in four people in Latin America and the Caribbean and one in seven in the United States and Canada.
Of the countries that provide maternal mortality rates by race, the United States has the lowest overall mortality rate, but the widest racial disparities. Black women in the United States are three times more likely than white women to die during or shortly after childbirth. These problems persist at all levels of income and education, as black women with college degrees are still 1.6 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women who didn’t finish high school.
What’s Next: Calls from the United Nations medical schools, health professionals and governments to action.
UN officials have urged medical schools to overhaul their curricula and hospitals to strengthen policies related to denial of care and patient abuse. Medical teams also need to consider innovative ways to help Black women overcome structural barriers that make it difficult to receive sufficient prenatal care, officials said, such as lack of access to reliable transportation and insurance. The agency has suggested partnerships with various black traditional healers and midwives to help overcome long-standing reservations.
The UN project also revealed a deep gap in surveillance data, which likely prevented the problems from becoming well known, he said. The report encouraged each country to improve its data collection efforts. Without a transparent look at the problem, the report says, it will be nearly impossible to design interventions to remedy it.