We’re coming to the end of the second annual Black Maternal Health Awareness Week, founded by fantastic campaign group Five X More. Set up by Black mums Tinuke and Clo, Five X More have done so much already to put this issue on the agenda over the last three years. Thanks to them and to other brilliant black birth campaigners, we are now having a serious conversation about these disparities.
This week is a reminder that decision -makers need to listen and start acting on what they are saying. Pregnancy and childbirth are two of the most vulnerable times of any woman’s life. But for mothers and birthing people of colour having children in the UK, this vulnerability is compounded by racial disparities in maternal healthcare.
In 2021, Black, mixed race, and Asian women in the UK are respectively four, three, and two times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth. These disparities extend right across the experience of maternity, with study after study showing black women and birthing people are significantly more likely to experience stillbirth, miscarriage, neonatal death, and near misses.
All the research shows these disparities cannot be explained by socioeconomic factors alone. Even after controlling for factors like class, country of origin and access to healthcare, black women are still significantly more likely to suffer maternal mortality and morbidity. The only explanation is the persistence of racism.
We know that the Government doesn’t like to talk about the ongoing impact of race has on life in Britain in 2021 but these poor outcomes are too serious to ignore. Bringing children into the world should not be a matter or life or death for any woman in a wealthy country like the UK, whatever the colour of her skin.
To mark this week, I secured a parliamentary debate to discuss why black mothers and birthing people face such a heightened risk and what we can do to change this. The fact we are having an honest conversation about our experiences and these disparities signifies progress, with decision-makers finally listening to what we have been telling them for a long time.
But it’s not just about listening to our stories, it’s about acting. That starts with a concrete commitment to improving outcomes. With the Government still reluctant to introduce binding targets and resource the change we need to see, we must keep piling on the pressure. The colour of your skin should have no impact on your health or your baby’s.
This article was first published on South London Press on the 23rd September 2021.