For decades, public research has proven time and time again that minority groups experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions.
Whether diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, or heart disease – people of color are more prone to deal with the financial, emotional, and health repercussions of life-limiting illness.
The same is accurate for infant health and mortality. Infants born to black and Native Hawaiian, and Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI) women are more than twice as likely to die relative to babies born to white women.
What we didn’t know was that the rate of neonatal death increases when babies are born after IVF (in vitro fertilization), so much so that it is four times worse in black families than in white.
This is where the cognitive dissonance settles in. The natural inclination is to assume anyone, regardless of color, would experience a lower rate of infant mortality when assisted reproductive technology and greater prenatal care are introduced.
This is because the cost of these elective services is often restricted to more affluent families. While there certainly has been an insurgence of black millionaires across the country, as a community, they tend to make less than their white counterparts.
This suggests the relative risks of conceiving with the aid of innovative fertility treatments are much higher for Black and minority women of color.
The Need for Greater Prenatal Care
The socioeconomic repercussions of studies that lay out clear and decisive evidence of racial disparity point the needle toward preventative care. While we as a society absolutely must address the racial elephant in the room, we also need to pour more resources into prenatal care.
Black and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) women have higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths compared to white women.
The sad part is most of these deaths are considered to be preventable. This is because many of the causes have clear preventative procedures to lower the rate or occurrence of death outcomes.
For example, cardiovascular conditions are a leading cause of pregnancy-related death in women overall. If this information is so widely accepted, why aren’t we initiating preventative prenatal care that directly addresses this disparity?
The United States fares worse in preventing pregnancy-related deaths than most other developed nations.
Even though we spend more than any other country on hospital-based maternity care, we have failed to meet national goals of lowering maternal and infant mortality rates.
As this number remains unchanged, the risk for Black and minority women of color continues.
The more we saber rattle against sex education, essential health services, and pregnancy-related care in our country – the greater this risk will grow.
Let’s say it again for the cheap seats in the back – prenatal pregnancy care is a critical method to improving the lives and well-being of pregnant mothers and babies.
Back to the Issue at Hand
Let’s return back to IVF again and talk a bit more. The fundamental reason for this disparity existing is racial inequality. It doesn’t matter if you are a far-left liberal or a far-right conservative.
The evidence is clear – women of color have less access to quality healthcare, experience more underlying chronic conditions, navigate structural racism, and deal with implicit bias by medical providers.
Even after a 2020 report from the CDC showing infant death rates declining in the US between 2000 and 2017, black infants still died at twice the rate of white babies.
So, how do we move forward? Unfortunately, there is no magic button to push that will suddenly make our society stand up for equal and fair rights. If anything, we have learned the hard way that change takes painstakingly long steps forward at a rate way slower than most of us would like.
That being said, there are vital introductions we can make to the US healthcare system to encourage change. These include:
Raising Public & Provider Awareness
The more people understand a problem exists, the better we can begin to change how to address the needs of patients. That includes the side of providers. There should be educational insights with verified and peer-reviewed evidence to showcase how these disparities affect provider care.
Expanding Health Coverage
We need country-wide medical health coverage. There are no two ways about it. When an emergency ambulance ride costs upwards of $2,500 in the U.S. and next to $0.00 in every other forward-thinking country, there is a problem.
Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionally represented in health care coverage. Even though they make up more than a third of the US population, they have some of the worst insurance coverage rates.
Expanding Care to Underserved Communities
When doctors have to take out mile-high loans to finish school, they do not want to work in areas with lower pay and benefits. There is no incentive to start a practice in the boondocks when a major city has the demand, equipment, experience, and pay rates providers want.
Without an incentive to go to more rural communities and underserved areas with high minority populations, access will be limited when it comes to medical intervention.
The Future of Women’s Rights
Underneath this entire argument about infant mortality and pregnant prenatal care is the foundational struggle for body autonomy. Let’s remove abortion from the topic at hand for a moment because this isn’t the focus we want.
Instead, consider where women are having babies. The current standard is to go to a hospital, lay down on your back, receive potent drugs, and induce labor.
The secondary standard is to schedule a c-section, which is absurd considering it is a major medical procedure with side effects that often prohibit future pregnancy.
Women have been left hampered by the power of outside control on their bodies. The more we try to schedule and automate the miracle of birth, the greater our country has failed at lowering infant mortality.
While there is some difference between birth centers, hospitals, and at-home birth, there is mounting evidence that access to choices and transparent risk assessment decision-making is what matters when it comes to lowering the potential of death rates.
The simple truth is if we want to improve the neonatal and IVF infant mortality rate, especially among women of color, we need to lose our grip on women’s issues and increase education and access to quality healthcare.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota