VP Kamala Harris Prioritizing Black Maternal Health Amid Health Inequities
Harris told Blavity that she is personally connected to the issue of Black maternal health.
April 14, 2022 at 12:30 pm
While closing out Black Maternal Health Week, Vice President Kamala Harris recapped the White House’s initiatives focused on Black mothers.
Harris, whose mother worked in maternal health as a breast cancer researcher, told Blavity the issue is a priority of hers.
“I grew up hearing my mother battle over what needed to happen to ensure that women are treated with dignity in the system, that their health issues and concerns are addressed in a way that approaches a woman with dignity,” Harris said.
She acknowledged that those same inequities her mom fought to improve are still present, and Harris has since worked to ensure that Black women are heard and taken seriously, especially while in labor.
Since taking office, the vice president has rounded up Biden administration leaders to discuss maternal mortality and morbidity. In 2021, Harris convened the first federal Maternal Health Day of Action, implementing a call to action to improve health outcomes for parents and infants.
The White House also announced that Washington, D.C., and several states are working to extend Medicaid coverage to a full year post pregnancy under the American Rescue Plan, according to the White House. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved Louisiana, Virginia, New Jersey and Illinois’ extension of Medicaid and CHIP coverage for 12 months after pregnancy.
Additionally, a “birthing-friendly” hospital designation has been established to refine maternal health outcomes. The designation will be awarded to hospitals that have shown a commitment to maternal health through its practices.
Among the vice president’s previous calls to action last year, the White House announced it would be investing in doulas, which are trained nonmedical professionals that assist parents during the pregnancy and postpartum journey and assist to address health disparities through education.
The Department of Health and Human Services previously announced the availability of $4.5 million for hiring, training, certifying and compensating doulas in areas with high rates of adverse maternal and infant health outcomes.
As Harris previously shared in an op-ed for Blavity in 2021, Black women die from pregnancy-related causes more than other women, regardless of income or education. Tennis champion Serena Williams told the BBC in 2018 that “doctors aren’t listening to us” after having a near-death experience after giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia.
Williams was forced to speak up for herself after noticing alarming symptoms that she connected to her medical history of blood clots. After experiencing a pulmonary embolism, she told doctors she needed a CT scan and a heparin drip.
Harris spoke to Blavity about women who have similar experiences to Williams, citing the issue as “racial bias.”
“When you look at the fact that Black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth,” Harris began, “you will see that the reality is that when a Black woman walks into a clinic or a hospital or an emergency room, she is just not taken as seriously as other women.”
To combat racial bias, Harris said that there will be training for workers in the health care professions, including doctors and nurses at hospitals.