Black Women’s Maternal Mortality Rate and the Five X More Campaign

THE SECOND MONTHLY COLUMN OF ‘LEARNING WITH LUCY!’: The maternal mortality rate for Black women in the UK is five times higher than that of their white counterparts. The Five X More campaign is fighting to change that…

Learning With Lucy

‘Learning with Lucy’ is a monthly column from writer Lucy Wilson. Each month, she will share her thoughts on a particular topic she has been learning about, or something she has been thinking about, in her attempt to become a better informed intersectional feminist. The column will (hopefully!) be a fun and informative journey into a wide variety of topics – from real-life issues to abstract concepts, current and historical, close to home and further afield. Lucy is excited to learn with you and she hopes you are excited about Learning with Lucy.

Content warning: medical racism; maternal mortality

The maternal mortality rate for Black women in the UK is five times higher than that of their white counterparts. The Five X More campaign is fighting to change that.

To begin, I would like to point out that I’m white (and have never been pregnant or given birth) so obviously can’t make any personal contributions to this discussion. I’ve been following the Five X More campaign for several months after being genuinely shocked by this statistic, and I want to raise awareness of the campaign here and point people in the direction of their website and social media. I’ll highlight their Instagram in particular because it’s full of information, resources and campaign updates, so I urge you to look through their account and follow them to keep up to date.

A report released in November 2019 found that the maternal mortality rate for Black women is five times higher than that of white women, meaning that Black women are five times more likely to die during pregnancy or up to six weeks after pregnancy from associated causes. Between 2015 and 2017, the maternal mortality rate for white women was 7 per 100,000; 13 per 100,000 for Asian women; and 38 per 100,000 for Black women.

In the wake of these findings, Tinuke Awe and Clotilde Rebecca Abe launched the Five X More campaign to increase awareness of this disparity in mortality rates, and to empower pregnant Black women to advocate for themselves to access the care they need. If you are a pregnant Black person, there are some resources on their website that you may find useful; primarily, a 6-step list of advice on how to work to receive the maternity care you deserve.

The campaign launched a petition this March that was eventually responded to by the UK government: this response, three months later, was met with a mixed reaction. While they welcomed the commitment to funding research into the higher pregnancy risks faced by Black and South Asian people, it was felt that the government could have done better. The campaign argues that the focus on a long-term plan (with goals set for 2024) is not immediate enough, given the ongoing nature of this issue and the current danger faced by pregnant people. Furthermore, the governmental response referred to BAME women, despite Black women being highest risk and the focus of the campaign to specifically improve outcomes for Black women: the campaign has said they “can clearly see the government not answering that specific ask, tailoring their response to one that suits them instead.”

Elsewhere, Dr Christine Ekechi – a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist (specialising in early pregnancy and acute gynaecological care), and spokesperson for racial equality at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – has commented on the need for medical professionals, and the medical profession, to acknowledge and remove conscious and subconscious biases. At the individual level, medical professionals need to dismantle the biases through which they see their patients. This might include different reactions to people from different races presenting clear treatment preferences, or dismantling misconceptions about different races feeling different amounts of pain. At the professional level, she says such change at the individual level has to start in medical education. The medical curriculum should include education on the racist history of medicine, and medical students should be taught about how things like rashes look on all types of skin, not just white skin.

I’ve tried to give a brief overview of the situation and the conversation around it, but for a fuller picture, first-hand testimonies and lots more resources, you should follow the links above. As I said, I think the campaign’s Instagram is particularly informative. They generally use the hashtag #fivexmore, but has dedicated the week of the 16th to the 22nd of September 2020 to awareness, sharing resources and using the hashtag #fivexmoreaw20. Follow them on social media to find out more information and engage with the campaign.

Lucy Wilson, Columnist

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