Medical school curricula, for example, include false claims that Black women’s nerve endings are “less sensitive” and require less anesthesia, and that Black women’s blood is more bleed faster than white women, leading to delayed treatment for dangerous bleeding, according to the report. It also found that textbook images of childbirth depict the pelvic anatomy of European women, which can lead to unnecessary interventions when non-white diversity is deemed “abnormal or high risk. “
“When a Black woman dies during childbirth, in São Paulo, Bogotá or New York, it is usually because of her lifestyle or individual failure: She did not make it in time to see the doctor or the nurse, she tortured life decision, he is predisposed to certain medical conditions. And then the world moves,” said Dr. Kanem.
The new report, he said, “absolutely debunks that.”
Background: Maternal mortality is increasing.
The overall maternal mortality ratio of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in Latin America, North America and the Caribbean increased by about 15 percent between 2016 and 2020, sparking the interest of officials in possible factors that will contribute, including 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.
Among countries that provide maternal mortality rates by race, the United States has the lowest overall mortality rate, but the widest racial disparity. Black women in the United States are three times more likely than white women to die during or soon after childbirth. Those problems persist across income and education levels, as Black women with college degrees are still 1.6 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women who did not complete high school.
What’s Next: Calls to the UN medical schools, health care providers and governments to act.
UN officials have urged medical schools to review their curricula and hospitals to strengthen policies related to denial of care and patient abuse. Medical teams should also consider innovative ways to help Black women overcome structural barriers that make it difficult to receive adequate prenatal care, officials said, such as lack of access to reliable transportation and insurance. The agency suggested working with various Black traditional healers and midwives to help navigate longstanding reservations.
The UN project also revealed a profound lack of monitoring data, which likely prevents problems from being recognized, it said. The report urged each country to improve data collection efforts. Without a clear view of the problem, the report said, it would be nearly impossible to design interventions to remedy it.