March 2, 2020
Reproductive health disparities, such as maternal mortality and morbidity rates, are significantly higher for women of color compared to white women.
Dr. Madeline Sutton, medical epidemiologist and board-certified OB/GYN and assistant professor at Morehouse School of Medicine, said that health care providers need to understand historical contexts to better modern medicine and to understand the disparities and gaps between the reproductive care of women of color compared to white women.
According to a study on pregnancy related deaths, 30 Native American women and 41 African American women die per 100 thousand live births. Sutton highlighted three recent prominent cases in which African American and Native American women died during or shortly after childbirth. She said that the deaths of Shalon Irving, Kyira Johnson and Stephanie Snook could have been prevented if their health care providers paid attention to, and acted upon, their patients’ concerns.
“Women of color remain more likely to be affected by negative outcomes, even when carrying a pregnancy to term or almost to term,” Sutton said.
She also said that all health care providers, but more importantly those in the reproductive health field, can do better by paying attention to the concerns of their patients as if they were caring for a “sister, mother or auntie.”
Within the reproductive health field, there has been a push for reproductive care providers to begin seeing women three weeks after childbirth, rather than the standard six week mark. This has been implemented so women who have a history of health or mental health problems can be taken care of in a more efficient way.
Deputy Director for Community Outreach at the Institute for Rural Health Research, Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, said that one of the most important lessons in Sutton’s talk was the role of physicians in how they listen to their patients, particularly women of color, which plays a role in the increased mortality and morbidity of mothers. She also said how important it is for medical students and residents to understand what causes maternal deaths in order to benefit women of color within the U.S. and globally.