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Black women's maternal health impacted by racism according to research, VP Harris weighs in

California health officials say Black mothers are three times more likely to die in childbirth compared to White mothers.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Vice President Kamala Harris talked about Black maternal health last week, bringing attention to the issues Black women face giving birth. California health officials say Black mothers are three times more likely to die in childbirth compared to White mothers. Research also shows income and education do not play a factor.

News 8's LaMonica Peters talked to a San Diego woman who said she almost died giving birth and a local doctor explains why this continues to happen.

This is not a new issue but federal and local agencies say they’re stepping up to do whatever they can to keep Black women and their babies as safe as possible during childbirth.

“And make no mistake, Black women in our country are facing a maternal health crisis. Black women are two to three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth than other women,” Vice President Kamala Harris said during a press conference.  

Harris joined the conversation about the challenges Black women are confronted with when giving birth. It’s been an ongoing issue for decades and studies show it’s not base on socio-economics, education or genetics.

“So, the research is showing that this is based on racism, discrimination and bias. We have to take a look at ourselves and when I say ourselves, ourselves as professionals, and this is professionals at every level, at every touchpoint of our patients, to make sure that we are giving equitable treatment, not just equal but equitable treatment to women of color,”  Dr. Kelly Elmore, a board-certified OBGYN, who's been practicing for 20 years. 

Thirty-five-year-old Nyrine Washington is a first-time mom who said she felt like she was being ignored while in labor and she nearly lost her life.

“No medication [was] really given. The ended up bursting my water bag, and I believe that I was open for so long that I ended up getting an infection in my womb. They later found out that my cervix had swollen and then I ended up getting a high fever,” Washington said. 

San Diego County launched a program in January called Black Legacy Now to address the inequities and discrimination Black women face in childbirth. Washington said the best decision she made was having her mother advocate for her while she was in labor.

“So just make sure that you’re heard, that you’re supported in whatever you decide to do and you don’t feel like you’re alone in there. If you don’t have someone with you or you don’t have a doctor that’s for you, it can be very scary and very lonely feeling that you have no choices or no options,” Washington said. 

In 2018, the state launched the CA Perinatal Equity Initiative but the state still reports the death rate for Black infants continues to be two to four times higher than any other group.

Dr. Elmore said Black women should also consider alternative childbirth methods like using a doula or midwife to handle their birthing experience. 

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